Beekeeper and cofounder and President
• Build and maintain your own beehives
• Handle all phases of honey production
• Use the latest tools and equipment
• Explore the theories behind and the
environmental, economic, and societal
impact of Colony Collapse Syndromet
Making Everything Easier!™
by Howland Blackiston
Foreword by Kim Flottum
Editor, Bee Culture Magazine
About the Author
Howland Blackiston has been a backyard bee-
keeper since 1984. He’s written many articles
on beekeeping and appeared on dozens of
television and radio programs (including The
Discovery Channel, CNBC, CNN, NPR, Sirius
Satellite Radio and scores of regional shows).
He has been a keynote speaker at confer-
ences in more than 40 countries. Howland is
cofounder and president of bee-commerce.
com, an internet-based store offering bee-
keeping supplies and equipment for the back
yard beekeeper. Howland is the past presi-
dent of Connecticut’s Back Yard Beekeepers
Association, one of the nation’s largest
regional clubs for the hobbyist beekeeper.
Howland, and his wife Joy live in Weston,
This book is lovingly dedicated to my wife Joy, who is the queen bee of my
universe. She has always been supportive of my unconventional whims and
hobbies (and there are a lot of them) and never once did she make me feel
like a dummy for asking her to share our lives with honey bees. I also thank
our wonderful daughter Brooke (now grown and married), who like her
mother, cheerfully put up with sticky kitchen floors and millions of buzzing
“siblings” While growing up in our bee-friendly household.
I was very fortunate, when I started beekeeping, that I met a masterful bee-
keeper who took me under his wing and taught me all that is wonderful about
honey bees. Ed Weiss became a valued mentor, a great friend, and ultimately
a partner in business. I am deeply appreciative of his friendship and bee-
wisdom. Ed served as the technical review editor for this book, and I am most
appreciative of the many hours he spent checking my facts to ensure that I
had been an attentive student. Thank you Ed.
My good friends Anne Mount and David Mayer played a key role in the cre-
ation of this book. Both of them are authors, and both encouraged me to con-
tact the “Dummies” team at Wiley Publishing. “You should write a book about
beekeeping, and they should publish it,” they urged. Well, I did and they did.
Thank you Anne and David. I owe you a whacking big jar of honey!
A good how-to book needs great how-to images. Special thanks to John
Clayton for the stunning cover image and some of the other close-ups used in
the book. Thanks also to Steve McDonald and Dr. Edward Ross who provided
most of the stunning macrophotography used in this book. I extend my grati-
tude for images (and technical suggestions) provided by Kim Flottum at Bee
Culture magazine. Image credits also go to The National Honey Board, the
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Marco Lazzari, Peter Duncan, Eric Erickson,
Reg Wilbanks, Mario Espinola, David Eyre, Swienty Beekeeping Equipment,
E. H. Thorne Ltd., Wellmark International, Barry Birkey, and Kate Solomon.
And thanks to fellow beekeeper and friend Stephan Grozinger, who patiently
served as my model for some of the how-to photographs.
Thanks also to Leslie Huston for her help with the chapter on rasing queen
bees, to Ellen Zampino for her section on planting flowers for your bees, and
to Patty Pulliam for her wonderful beeswax recipes.
Writing this book was a labor of love, thanks to the wonderful folks at Wiley
Publishing: Tracy Brown Collins, my project editor, who also did the copy
editing; Erin Calligan Mooney, my acquisitions editor; and Erin Smith, the
book’s production coordinator, who handled nearly everything to do with
the way the words and images ultimately appeared on the page. What a great
We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our Dummies online registra-
tion form located at http://dummies.custhelp.com. For other comments, please contact our
Customer Care Department within the U.S. at 877-762-2974, outside the U.S. at 317-572-3993, or fax
Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:
Acquisitions, Editorial, and Media
Project Editor: Tracy Brown Collins
(Previous Edition: Suzanne Snyder)
Acquisitions Editor: Erin Calligan Mooney
Editorial Program Coordinator: Joe Niesen
Technical Editor: Ed Weiss
Art coordinator: Alicia South
Senior Editorial Manager: Jennifer Ehrlich
Editorial Supervisor and Reprint Editor:
Editorial Assistant: David Lutton
Cartoons: Rich Tennant
Project Coordinator: Erin Smith
Layout and Graphics: Samantha K. Allen,
Reuben W. Davis, Melissa K. Jester,
Proofreaders: John Greenough, Toni Settle
Indexer: Steve Rath
Publishing and Editorial for Consumer Dummies
Diane Graves Steele, Vice President and Publisher, Consumer Dummies
Kristin Ferguson-Wagstaffe, Product Development Director, Consumer Dummies
Ensley Eikenburg, Associate Publisher, Travel
Kelly Regan, Editorial Director, Travel
Publishing for Technology Dummies
Andy Cummings, Vice President and Publisher, Dummies Technology/General User
Gerry Fahey, Vice President of Production Services
Debbie Stailey, Director of Composition Services
Contents at a Glance
Introduction ................................................................ 1
Part I: Falling in Love with a Bug................................. 7
Chapter 1: To Bee or Not to Bee? ....................................................................................9
Chapter 2: Life Inside the Honey Bee Hive ...................................................................21
Part II: Starting Your Adventure................................. 45
Chapter 3: Alleviating Apprehensions and Making Decisions ...................................47
Chapter 4: Basic Equipment for Beekeepers................................................................59
Chapter 5: Obtaining and Installing Your Bees............................................................91
Part III: Time for a Peek........................................... 109
Chapter 6: Opening Your Hive .....................................................................................111
Chapter 7: What to Expect when You’re Inspecting..................................................125
Chapter 8: Different Seasons, Different Activities.....................................................145
Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions........ 163
Chapter 9: Anticipating and Preventing Potential Problems ...................................165
Chapter 10: Colony Collapse Disorder........................................................................189
Chapter 11: Diseases and Remedies............................................................................197
Chapter 12: Honey Bee Pests .......................................................................................207
Chapter 13: Raising Your Own Queens.......................................................................229
Part V: Sweet Rewards............................................. 247
Chapter 14: Getting Ready for the Golden Harvest...................................................249
Chapter 15: Honey Harvest Day...................................................................................263
Part VI: The Part of Tens.......................................... 277
Chapter 16: (Almost) Ten Fun Things to Do with Bees.............................................279
Chapter 17: Ten Frequently Asked Questions About Bee Behavior........................305
Chapter 18: My Ten Favorite Honey Recipes .............................................................309
Table of Contents
Foreward .................................................................. xvii
What I Assume about You ..............................................................................1
How This Book Is Organized..........................................................................1
Part I: Falling in Love with a Bug..........................................................2
Part II: Starting Your Adventure...........................................................2
Part III: Time for a Peek.........................................................................2
Part IV: Common Problems & Simple Solutions ................................3
Part V: Sweet Rewards ..........................................................................3
Part VI: The Part of Tens.......................................................................4
Icons Used in This Book .................................................................................4
Part I: Falling in Love with a Bug.................................. 7
Chapter 1: To Bee or Not to Bee? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9
Discovering the Benefits of Beekeeping .....................................................10
Harvesting liquid gold: Honey............................................................11
Bees as pollinators: Their vital role to our food supply.................12
Being part of the bigger picture: Save the bees! ..............................13
Getting an education: And passing it on! ..........................................13
Improving your health: Bee therapies and stress relief..................14
Determining Your Beekeeping Potential ....................................................15
Zoning and legal restrictions..............................................................16
Costs and equipment...........................................................................16
Time and commitment........................................................................17
Beekeeper personality traits ..............................................................18
Chapter 2: Life Inside the Honey Bee Hive . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21
Basic Body Parts............................................................................................22
The Amazing Language of Bees ...................................................................25
Shall we dance?....................................................................................26
Beekeeping For Dummies, 2nd Editionx
Dividing Honey Bees into Three Castes......................................................27
Her majesty, the queen .......................................................................27
The industrious little worker bee ......................................................30
The woeful drone.................................................................................35
The Honey Bee Life Cycle.............................................................................36
Other Stinging Insects...................................................................................41
Yellow jacket ........................................................................................43
Part II: Starting Your Adventure.................................. 45
Chapter 3: Alleviating Apprehensions and Making Decisions . . . . . .47
Overcoming Sting Phobia.............................................................................48
Knowing what to do if you’re stung...................................................49
Watching for allergic reactions..........................................................50
Building up a tolerance .......................................................................51
Understanding Local Laws and Ordinances ..............................................51
Easing the Minds of Family and Neighbors................................................51
Location, Location, Location: Where to Keep Your Hives .......................53
Providing for your thirsty bees..........................................................55
Understanding the correlation between geographical
area and honey flavors....................................................................57
Knowing When to Start Your Adventure....................................................57
Chapter 4: Basic Equipment for Beekeepers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .59
Finding Out about the Langstroth Hive ......................................................59
Knowing the Basic Woodenware Parts of the Hive...................................61
Bottom board .......................................................................................63
Entrance reducer .................................................................................63
Deep-hive body ....................................................................................64
Queen excluder ....................................................................................64
Shallow or medium honey super .......................................................65
xiTable of Contents
Ordering Hive Parts.......................................................................................73
Startup hive kits...................................................................................74
Setting up shop ....................................................................................74
Adding on Feeders.........................................................................................75
Pail feeder .............................................................................................78
Really Helpful Accessories ...........................................................................84
Elevated hive stand .............................................................................85
Screened bottom board ......................................................................88
Other necessities .................................................................................89
Chapter 5: Obtaining and Installing Your Bees. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .91
Determining the Kind of Bee You Want......................................................91
Deciding How to Obtain Your Initial Bee Colony ......................................94
Ordering package bees........................................................................94
Buying a “nuc” colony.........................................................................95
Purchasing an established colony.....................................................97
Capturing a wild swarm of bees.........................................................97
Picking a Reputable Bee Supplier................................................................97
Deciding When to Place Your Order...........................................................99
The Day Your Girls Arrive ..........................................................................100
Bringing home your bees..................................................................101
Recipe for sugar syrup......................................................................101
Putting Your Bees into the Hive ................................................................102
Part III: Time for a Peek ........................................... 109
Chapter 6: Opening Your Hive . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .111
Establishing Visiting Hours ........................................................................111
Setting an Inspection Schedule..................................................................112
Preparing to Visit Your Hive ......................................................................112
Making “non-scents” a part of personal hygiene ...........................113
Getting dressed up and ready to go ................................................113
Lighting your smoker ........................................................................114
Beekeeping For Dummies, 2nd Editionxii
Opening the Hive .........................................................................................117
Removing the hive-top feeder ..........................................................119
Removing the inner cover.................................................................121
The Hive’s Open! Now What?.....................................................................122
Chapter 7: What to Expect when You’re Inspecting . . . . . . . . . . . . . .125
Exploring Basic Inspection Techniques ...................................................125
Removing the first frame...................................................................126
Working your way through the hive................................................128
Holding up frames for inspection ....................................................128
Knowing when it’s time for more smoke ........................................130
Understanding what to always look for ..........................................130
Closing the hive..................................................................................132
Your New Colony’s First Eight Weeks.......................................................133
Checking in: A week after hiving your bees....................................133
The second and third weeks ............................................................136
Weeks four through eight .................................................................139
Chapter 8: Different Seasons, Different Activities. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .145
Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer ...........................................................145
Your summer “to-do” list..................................................................146
Your summer time commitment......................................................146
Falling Leaves Point to Autumn Chores....................................................147
Your autumn “to-do” list...................................................................147
Your autumn time commitment.......................................................150
Clustering in a Winter Wonderland...........................................................151
Your winter “to-do” list.....................................................................152
Your winter time commitment.........................................................152
Spring Is in the Air (Starting Your Second Season).................................153
Your spring “to-do” list .....................................................................153
Your springtime commitment..........................................................155
Administering spring medication ....................................................155
Reversing hive bodies .......................................................................156
The Beekeeper’s Calendar..........................................................................158
How to Use this Tool...................................................................................159
Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions ........ 163
Chapter 9: Anticipating and Preventing Potential Problems . . . . . . .165
Running Away (To Join the Circus?).........................................................166
Where Did the Queen Go? ..........................................................................176
Letting nature take its course ..........................................................177
Ordering a replacement queen ........................................................177
Introducing a new queen to the hive...............................................178
xiiiTable of Contents
Avoiding Chilled Brood...............................................................................179
Dealing with the Dreaded Robbing Frenzies............................................180
Knowing the difference between normal
and abnormal (robbing) behavior ...............................................180
Putting a stop to a robbing attack ...................................................181
Preventing robbing in the first place...............................................181
Ridding Your Hive of the Laying Worker Phenomenon..........................182
How to know if you have laying workers........................................183
Getting rid of laying workers............................................................184
Preventing Pesticide Poisoning .................................................................185
The Killer Bee Phenomenon.......................................................................186
What are “killer bees”?......................................................................186
Bee prepared! .....................................................................................187
Chapter 10: Colony Collapse Disorder . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .189
What Is CCD?................................................................................................189
The warning signs..............................................................................190
What to Do If You Suspect CCD? ...............................................................190
Why All the Fuss? ........................................................................................191
What’s Causing CCD? ..................................................................................191
The cell phone theory.......................................................................191
It may be the perfect storm..............................................................192
Answers to FAQs..........................................................................................193
What You Can Do to Help...........................................................................194
A Final Word.................................................................................................195
Chapter 11: Diseases and Remedies. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .197
Medicating or Not? ......................................................................................197
Knowing the Big Six Bee Diseases .............................................................198
American foulbrood (AFB) ...............................................................198
European foulbrood (EFB)................................................................199
A handy chart.....................................................................................203
Chapter 12: Honey Bee Pests . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .207
Parasitic Mites .............................................................................................207
Go au naturel! .....................................................................................214
Small Hive Beetle .........................................................................................221
Determining whether you have a small hive beetle problem ......221
How to control the small hive beetle ..............................................222
Ants, Ants, and More Ants..........................................................................222
Beekeeping For Dummies, 2nd Editionxiv
Raccoons and Skunks..................................................................................224
Keeping Out Mrs. Mouse ............................................................................225
Some Birds Have a Taste for Bees.............................................................226
Chapter 13: Raising Your Own Queens. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .229
Why Raising Queens Is the Bee’s Knees...................................................229
Accentuate the Positive..............................................................................230
What Makes a Queen a Queen ...................................................................232
How do they mate? ............................................................................233
Creating Demand: Making a Queenless Nuc.............................................233
Queen Rearing: The Miller Method ...........................................................234
The Doolittle Method: Grafting..................................................................238
Tools and equipment ........................................................................238
How it’s done......................................................................................240
Providing nuptial housing.................................................................242
Finding a Home for Your Queens ..............................................................243
The Queen Breeder’s Calendar..................................................................244
Marking and Wing-Clipping ........................................................................245
Part V: Sweet Rewards ............................................. 247
Chapter 14: Getting Ready for the Golden Harvest. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .249
Having Realistic Expectations....................................................................250
What Flavor Do You Want? ........................................................................250
Choosing Extracted, Comb, Chunk, or Whipped Honey.........................251
The Right Equipment for the Job ..............................................................253
Honey extractors ...............................................................................253
Uncapping knife .................................................................................254
Other handy gadgets for extracting honey.....................................255
Comb honey equipment....................................................................258
Planning Your Honey Harvest Setup.........................................................258
Branding and Selling Your Honey..............................................................260
Creating an attractive label ..............................................................260
Finding places to market your honey..............................................262
Selling your honey on the Web ........................................................262
Chapter 15: Honey Harvest Day . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .263
Knowing When to Harvest..........................................................................264
Bad things come to those who wait! ...............................................265
xvTable of Contents
Getting the Bees Out of the Honey Supers...............................................265
Shakin’ ’em out...................................................................................266
Blowin’ ’em out...................................................................................267
Using a bee escape board.................................................................267
Fume board and bee repellent .........................................................268
Honey Extraction 101..................................................................................270
Cleaning Up After Extracting......................................................................273
Controlling wax moths......................................................................274
Part VI: The Part of Tens........................................... 277
Chapter 16: (Almost) Ten Fun Things to Do with Bees . . . . . . . . . . . .279
Making Two Hives From One .....................................................................279
Making One Hive From Two.......................................................................281
Establishing a Nucleus Hive.......................................................................283
Starting an Observation Hive.....................................................................284
Planting Flowers for Your Bees .................................................................286
Building Your Own Hives............................................................................289
Brewing Mead: The Nectar of the Gods....................................................292
Create Cool Stuff with Propolis..................................................................294
Propolis ointment ..............................................................................296
Making Gifts From Beeswax .......................................................................297
Beeswax furniture polish..................................................................299
Beauty and the bees ..........................................................................299
Chapter 17: Ten Frequently Asked Questions
About Bee Behavior. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .305
Chapter 18: My Ten Favorite Honey Recipes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .309
Appendix A: Helpful Resources.................................. 317
Honey Bee Web Sites...................................................................................317
About.com (beekeeping homepage) ...............................................318
Apiservices — Virtual beekeeping gallery......................................318
BeeHoo — The beekeeping directory .............................................318
Bee Master Forum..............................................................................319
Mid Atlantic Apiculture Research and
Extension Consortium (MAARAC) ...............................................319
Beekeeping For Dummies, 2nd Editionxvi
Mite control using essential oils......................................................320
National Honey Board .......................................................................320
Bee Organizations and Conferences .........................................................320
American Apitherapy Society...........................................................320
American Beekeeping Federation....................................................321
American Honey Producers Association........................................321
Apimondia: International Federation
of Beekeepers’ Associations.........................................................322
Bee Research Laboratory .................................................................322
Eastern Apiculture Society ...............................................................323
International Bee Research Association.........................................323
The Western Apiculture Society......................................................324
Apiary Inspectors of America...........................................................324
Bee Journals & Magazines..........................................................................324
American Bee Journal .......................................................................324
Bee Culture .........................................................................................325
Bee World ...........................................................................................325
The Speedy Bee..................................................................................326
Beekeeping Supplies & Equipment............................................................326
The Beez Neez Apiary Supply ..........................................................327
Brushy Mountain Bee Farm..............................................................327
Dadant & Sons, Inc.............................................................................328
Glorybee Foods, Inc...........................................................................328
Mann Lake Ltd....................................................................................328
Rossman Apiaries ..............................................................................329
Swienty Beekeeping Equipment.......................................................329
Thorne Beekeeping Supply...............................................................330
The Walter T. Kelley Company ........................................................330
State Bee Inspectors (United States) ........................................................330
Appendix B: Beekeeper’s Checklist............................. 331
Glossary .................................................................. 335
There are many good reasons to keep bees.
And although there are far more than I can possibly list here, I’d like
to make sure you are aware of those few that I think are most important.
Certainly at the top of the list is that honey bees enhance the productivity of
our gardens, our farms, and the wild plants everywhere due to their pollinat-
ing behaviors. There’s a conspiracy between plants and bees — where bees
gather a flower’s nectar and pollen for food and in the process share one
flower’s pollen with the next flower they visit. Thus both plants benefit and
can set the seeds of their next generation.
Meanwhile, the honey bee helps herself to the sweet and nutritious rewards
offered by the flowers. These rewards are used to feed the young and sustain
the honey bee colony over the winter. What a grand relationship. Both flow-
ers and bees, and even beekeepers benefit.
Beekeepers and honey bees have a similar sort of arrangement. Honey bees,
driven by instinct to gather as much of nature’s bounty as possible, often
store far more than they can ever use. This they share with their keepers,
who in turn provide home and hearth, safety and protection for the colony,
their queen and their future. Both are winners in this honeyed dance.
But beekeepers have had to pay more attention to the safety and protection
they have been providing because unknown and unseen perils have come to
visit our bees. Colony Collapse Disorder and other deadly pests are causing
our bees problems. In some cases serious problems.
But we have responded in the new ways of the world. We’ve developed new
and innovative Integrated Pest Management systems that control these pests,
that care for the nutrition and health of our bees, that shield their young
from harm, and that protect them from the things that go bump in the hive.
We’ve learned that there are many, many ways to win these battles, ways
that are safe, sane and healthy for both beekeepers and their bees. These are
the beekeeping practices of the future. These are what we must know, and
what we must do.
Beekeeping For Dummies, 2nd Editionxviiixviii
And beekeepers are learning the many advantages of growing their own.
Beekeepers are producing their own queens, selected to thrive in their
own backyards, chosen to grow where the beekeeper lives. These are the
bees of the future. This is beekeeping at its best.
This new edition of Beekeeping For Dummies opens the door to this future.
And the only Dummies are those that choose not to go through.
Editor, Bee Culture Magazine
Keeping honey bees is a unique and immensely rewarding hobby. If you
have an interest in nature, you’ll deeply appreciate the wonderful world
that beekeeping opens up to you. If you’re a gardener, you’ll treasure the
extra bounty that pollinating bees bring to your fruits, flowers, and vegeta-
bles. In short, you’ll be captivated by these remarkable little creatures in the
same way others have been captivated for thousands of years.
Becoming a beekeeper is easy and safe — it’s a great hobby for the entire family.
All you need is a little bit of guidance to get started. And that’s exactly what
this book is for. I provide you with a step-by-step approach for successful back-
yard beekeeping — follow it closely, and you can have a lifetime of enjoyment
with your bees.
What I Assume about You
If you’ve never kept bees, this book has all the information you need to get
started in beekeeping. I assume that you have no prior knowledge of the
equipment, tools, and techniques — complete ignorance, in the best sense of
However, if you’ve been a beekeeper for a while, this book is a terrific resource
for you, too. You’ll find new ideas on how to keep your bees healthier and
more productive. You may appreciate the way the book has been organized
for easy and ongoing reference. I include the latest information on honey bee
health and medications, plus a whole lot of “tricks of the trade.” In short, this
book is for just about anyone who’s fallen in love with the bountiful honey bee.
How This Book Is Organized
This book is a reference, not a lecture. You certainly don’t have to read it
from beginning to end unless you want to. I organized the chapters in a logi-
cal fashion, with sensitivity to the beekeeper’s calendar of events. I include
lots of great photographs and illustrations (each, I hope, is worth a thousand
words) and lots of practical advice and suggestions. The following sections
describe how the book is structured:
2 Beekeeping For Dummies, 2nd Edition
Part I: Falling in Love with a Bug
Before becoming a beekeeper, take a moment to get to know the honey bee.
Chapter 1 explains basic bee anatomy and how bees communicate with each
other. It also introduces you to the various kinds of honey bees and other
Chapter 2 gives you some insight into “a day in the life of the honey bee.”
You find out about the queen, the workers, and the drones, and the roles
each plays in the colony.
Part II: Starting Your Adventure
This is where the fun begins! Here’s where you find out how to get started
with your first colony of honey bees.
Chapter 3 deals with any apprehensions you may have about beekeeping
(stings, neighbors, and so on). This chapter tells you where you should
locate your hive and how you can get started.
Chapter 4 shows the basic equipment you need and how to assemble it. You
find out about really cool gadgets and weird and wonderful hives.
Chapter 5 helps you decide the kind of honey bee to raise, and when and
how to order your bees. Find out what to do the day your “girls” arrive and
how to successfully transfer them to their new home.
Part III: Time for a Peek
Here’s where you get up-close and personal with your honey bees. This is the
heart of the book because it shares useful tips and techniques that help you
develop good habits right from the start. You find out the best and safest way
to inspect and enjoy your bees.
Chapter 6 clearly explains how to go about approaching and opening up a
colony of bees.
Chapter 7 helps you understand exactly what you’re look for every time you
inspect a colony. I include the specific tasks that are unique to the weeks
immediately following the arrival of your bees, as well as throughout the
Chapter 8 discusses the tasks a beekeeper must perform year-round to main-
tain a healthy colony. Use it as a checklist of seasonal activities that you can
refer back to year after year. There’s a really neat “Beekeeper’s Calendar”
that’s keyed to different climates across the country. Use this to identify the
tasks you should do, and when.
Part IV: Common Problems & Simple
Okay, I admit it. Sometimes things go wrong. But don’t worry. This section
tells you what to expect and what to do when things don’t go as planned.
Chapter 9 shows you how to anticipate a number of the most common prob-
lems. Find out what to do if your hive swarms or simply packs up and leaves.
Discover how to recognize problems with brood production and your precious
Chapter 10 provides information about a topic that’s all the buzz in the
media: Colony Collapse Disorder. Get the skinny on what we know and do not
know about CCD. Learn what you can to help save the honey bees.
Chapter 11 takes a detailed look at bee illnesses. Learn what medications you
can use to keep your bees healthy and productive, year after year.
Chapter 12 shows you how to deal with some common pests of the honey
bee — mites, birds, insects, and other troublesome critters.
Chapter 13 teaches you the basics for how you can raise your own queen
bees for fun and profit. Raising your own queens is a proven way to ensure
strong, healthy honey bees by breeding queens from your colonies exhibiting
the most desirable genetics (healthy, productive, and gentle).
Part V: Sweet Rewards
This is what beekeeping is all about for most people — the honey harvest!
Chapter 14 gets you ready for your honey harvest. Decide what kind of
honey you’d like to make. Find out about the equipment you need and how to
plan for the big harvest.
Chapter 15 gives you a step-by-step approach for harvesting, bottling, and
marketing your honey. The chapter also includes some practical advice for
what to do after the harvest is over.
4 Beekeeping For Dummies, 2nd Edition
Part VI: The Part of Tens
No For Dummies book is complete without the Part of Tens, so I offer a col-
lection of fun lists. Not a bad way to squeeze a whole bunch of extra, helpful
information into a book.
Chapter 16 lists ten fun, bee-related activities, including information about
starting an observation hive, brewing honey wine, building your own hives,
and making products from beeswax and propolis.
Chapter 17 answers the most frequently asked questions about bee behav-
iors that I’ve received from beekeepers.
Chapter 18 includes ten of my all-time favorite honey recipes. After all,
there’s a lot more uses for honey than just spreading it on toast!
I also include some back-of-book materials, including a lot of really helpful
bee-related resources: Web sites, journals, suppliers, and beekeeping asso-
ciations. I also give you a glossary of bee and beekeeping terms that you can
use as a handy quick reference, and some useful templates for creating your
own beekeeping checklists and logs. Finally, there are some special offers
that you can take advantage of for purchasing new beekeeping equipment
and subscribing to one of the leading bee journals.
Icons Used in This Book
Peppered throughout this book are helpful icons that present special types of
information to enhance your reading experience:
Think of these tips as words of wisdom that — when applied — can make your
beekeeping experience more pleasant and fulfilling!
These warnings alert you to potential beekeeping boo-boos that could make
your experiences unpleasant and/or your little winged friends unhappy or
downright miserable. Take them to heart!
I use this icon to point out things that need to be so ingrained in your bee-
keeping consciousness that they become habits. Keep these points at the fore-
front of your mind when caring for your bees.
From time to time, I explain some new terminology that is basic beekeeping
parlance. Learn some new words and some insights to the world of the hive!
Here I share with you some personal beekeeping anecdotes and “betcha didn’t
know” facts about these winged wonders!
In this part . . .
Here’s where you get to know more about the
remarkable honey bee. See what makes them tick,
understand how they communicate with each other, and
find out about their different roles and responsibilities as
members of the colony.
In This Chapter
▶ Finding out about the many benefits of beekeeping
▶ Admiring the honey bee’s vital role in nature
▶ Deciding whether beekeeping is for you
I’ve been keeping bees in my backyard since 1983, and I have a confession to
make — I really love my bees. That may sound weird to you if you aren’t a
beekeeper (yet!), but virtually everyone who keeps bees will tell you the same
thing and speak with deep warmth about “their girls.” They impatiently await
their next opportunity to visit their hives. They experience a true emotional
loss when their bees don’t make it through a bad winter. Beekeepers, without a
doubt, develop a special bond with their bees.
Since becoming a backyard beekeeper, I’ve grown to deeply admire the remark-
able qualities of these endearing creatures. As a gardener, I’ve witnessed
firsthand the dramatic contribution they provide to flowering plants of all
kinds. With honey bees in my garden, its bounty has increased by leaps and
bounds. And then there’s that wonderful bonus that they generously give me:
a yearly harvest of sweet liquid gold.
Once you get to know more about bees’ value and remarkable social skills,
you’ll fall in love with them too. They’re simply wonderful little creatures.
Interacting with them is an honor and a privilege. People who love nature in
its purest form will love bees and beekeeping.
That being said, in this chapter, I help you better understand the remarkable and
bountiful little honey bee by looking at its history and the value that it brings to
our lives. I also discuss the benefits of beekeeping and why you should con-
sider it as a hobby — or even a small business venture. This chapter gives
you an idea of what equipment you’ll need to get started, the time you should
expect to spend maintaining a healthy hive, and how deep your pockets need
to be. It also discusses the optimal environmental conditions for raising bees
and ends with a checklist that you can fill out to see if beekeeping is for you.
10 Part I: Falling in Love with a Bug
Discovering the Benefits of Beekeeping
Why has mankind been so interested in beekeeping over the centuries? I’m
sure that the first motivator was honey. After all, for many years and long
before cane sugar, honey was the primary sweetener in use. I’m also sure that
honey remains the principal draw for many backyard beekeepers. Chapters
14 and 15 deal with how to produce, harvest, and market your honey.
The prehistoric bee
Bees have been around for a long, long time,
gathering nectar and pollinating flowers. They
haven’t changed much since the time of the
dinosaurs. The insect shown in the following
figure is definitely recognizable as a bee. It
was caught in a flow of pine sap 30 to 40 million
years ago and is forever preserved in amber.
Courtesy of Mario Espinola, www.espd.com
11Chapter 1: To Bee or Not to Bee?
But the sweet reward is by no means the only reason folks are attracted to
beekeeping. For a long time, agriculture has recognized the value of pollina-
tion by bees. Without the bees’ help, many commercial crops would suffer
serious consequences. More on that later. Even backyard beekeepers wit-
ness dramatic improvements in their gardens’ yields: more and larger fruits,
flowers, and vegetables. A hive or two in the garden makes a big difference in
your success as a gardener.
The rewards of beekeeping extend beyond honey and pollination. Bees pro-
duce other products that can be harvested and put to good use, including
beeswax, propolis, and royal jelly. Even the pollen they bring back to the hive
can be harvested (it’s rich in protein and makes a healthy food supplement in
our own diets).
Harvesting liquid gold: Honey
The prospect of harvesting honey is certainly a strong attraction for new
beekeepers. There’s something magical about bottling your own honey. And
I can assure you that no other honey tastes as good as the honey made by
your own bees. Delicious! Be sure to have a look at Chapter 18, where I list
some delicious recipes for cooking with honey.
How much honey can you expect? The answer to that question varies depend-
ing on the weather, rainfall, and location and strength of your colony. But
producing 60 to 80 pounds or more of surplus honey isn’t unusual for a single
colony. Chapters 14 and 15 provide plenty of useful information on the kinds
of honey you can harvest from your bees and how to go about it. Also included
are some suggestions on how you can go about selling your honey — how
many hobbies can boast a profitable return on investment!
Honeybee or honey bee?
This is a “tomato/tomahto” issue. The British
adhere to their use of the one word: “honey-
bee.” The Entomological Society of America,
however, prefers to use two words “honey
bee.” Here’s the society’s rationale: The honey
bee is a true bee, like a house fly is a true fly,
and thus should be two words. A dragonfly, on
the other hand, is not a fly; hence it is one word.
Note: Spell it both ways when Web surfing. That
way, you’ll cover all bases and hit all the sites!
12 Part I: Falling in Love with a Bug
Bees as pollinators: Their vital
role to our food supply
Any gardener recognizes the value of pollinating insects. Various insects per-
form an essential service in the production of seed and fruit. The survival of
plants depends on pollination. You might not have thought much about the
role honey bees play in our every day food supply. The fact is that 60 percent
of the fruits and vegetables we rely on to feed our families need honey bee
pollination. The value of honey bee pollination to U.S. agriculture is more than
$14 billion annually, according to a Cornell University study. These are more
than interesting facts. These are realities with devastating consequences.
Why bees make great pollinators
About 90 crops in the United States depend
on bees for pollination. Why is the honey bee
such an effective pollinator? Because she’s
uniquely adapted to the task. Here are several
✓ The honey bee’s anatomy is well suited
for carrying pollen. Her body and legs are
covered with branched hairs that catch
and hold pollen grains. The bee’s hind legs
contain pollen baskets that the bee uses for
transporting pollen, a major source of food,
back to the hive. If the bee brushes against
the stigma (female part) of the next flower
she visits and brushes off some of the
pollen grains, the act of cross-pollination is
✓ Most other insects lie dormant all winter
and in spring emerge only in small num-
bers, until increasing generations have
rebuilt the population of the species. Not
the honey bee. Its hive is perennial. The
honey bee overwinters, with large num-
bers of bees feeding on stored honey. Early
in the spring, the queen begins laying eggs,
and the already large population explodes.
When flowers begin to bloom, each hive
has tens of thousands of bees to carry out
pollination activities. By mid-summer, an
individual hive contains upward of 60,000
✓ The honey bee has a unique habit that’s
of great value as a pollinator. It tends to
forage on blooms of the same kind, as
long as they’re flowering. In other words,
rather than hopping from one flower type to
another, honey bees are flower-consistent.
This focus makes for particularly effective
pollination. It also means that the honey
they produce from the nectar of a specific
flower takes on the unique flavor charac-
teristics of that flower — that’s how we
get specific honey flavors, such as orange
blossom honey, buckwheat honey, blue-
berry honey, lavender honey, and so on
(see Chapter 3).
✓ The honey bee is one of the only pollinating
insects that can be introduced to a garden
at the gardener’s will. You can garden on a
hit-or-miss basis and hope that enough wild
bees are out there to achieve adequate
pollination — or you can take positive
steps and nestle a colony of honey bees in
a corner of your garden.
13Chapter 1: To Bee or Not to Bee?
The dwindling population of honey bees in recent years (see the later section
“Being part of the bigger picture: Save the bees!”) underscores the value of bee
pollination. Indeed a spring without bees could endanger our food supply and
impact our economy. It is a story that has become headline news in the media.
I’ve witnessed the miracle in my own garden: more and larger flowers, fruits,
and vegetables — all the result of more efficient pollination by bees. After
seeing my results, a neighbor who tends an imposing vegetable garden begged
me to place a couple of hives on her property. I did, and she too is thrilled.
She rewards me with a never-ending bounty of fruits and vegetables. And I pay
my land-rent by providing her with 20 pounds of honey every year. Not a bad
barter all around.
Being part of the bigger
picture: Save the bees!
The facts that keeping a hive in the backyard dramatically improves pollination
and rewards you with a delicious honey harvest are by themselves good
enough reasons to keep bees. But today, the value of keeping bees goes
beyond the obvious. In many areas, millions of colonies of wild (or feral) honey
bees have been wiped out by urbanization, pesticides, parasitic mites, and
a recent phenomenon called “Colony Collapse Disorder” (see Chapter 10 for
more information on “CCD”). Collectively, these challenges are devastating
the honey bee population. Many gardeners have asked me why they now see
fewer and fewer honey bees in their gardens. It’s because of the dramatic
decrease in our honey bee population. Backyard beekeeping has become
vital in our efforts to reestablish lost colonies of bees and offset the natural
decrease in pollination by wild bees. I know of many folks who have started
beekeeping to help re-build the honey bee population.
Getting an education: And passing it on!
As a beekeeper you continually discover new things about nature, bees,
and their remarkable social behavior. Just about any school, nature center,
garden club, or youth organization loves for you (as a beekeeper) to share
your knowledge. Each year I make the rounds with my slide show and props,
sharing the miracle of honey bees with my community. On many occasions
my daughter’s teacher and classmates visited the house for an on-site work-
shop. I opened the hive and gave each wide-eyed student a close-up look at
bees at work. Spreading the word to others about the value these little crea-
tures bring to all of us is great fun. You’re planting a seed for our next genera-
tion of beekeepers. After all, a grade-school presentation on beekeeping is
what aroused my interest in honey bees.
14 Part I: Falling in Love with a Bug
Improving your health: Bee therapies
and stress relief
Although I can’t point to any scientific studies to confirm it, I honestly believe
that tending honey bees reduces stress. Working with my bees is so calming
and almost magical. I am at one with nature, and whatever problems may
have been on my mind tend to evaporate. There’s something about being out
there on a lovely warm day, the intense focus of exploring the wonders of the
hive, and hearing that gentle hum of contented bees — it instantly puts me
at ease, melting away whatever day-to-day stresses that I might find creeping
into my life.
Bee hunters, gatherers, and cultivators
An early cave painting in eastern Spain, circa
6000 B.C., shows early Spaniards hunting for
and harvesting wild honey (see the figure
and sacred commodity. It was used as money
and praised as the nectar of the gods. Methods
of beekeeping remained relatively unchanged
until 1852 with the introduction of today’s
“modern” interchangeable-frame hive, also
known as the Langstroth hive. (See Chapter
4 for more information about Langstroth and
other kinds of bee hives.)
15Chapter 1: To Bee or Not to Bee?
Any health food store proprietor can tell you the benefits of the bees’ prod-
ucts. Honey, pollen, royal jelly, and propolis have been a part of healthful
remedies for centuries. Honey and propolis have significant antibacterial
qualities. Royal jelly is loaded with B vitamins and is widely used overseas
as a dietary and fertility stimulant. Pollen is high in protein and can be used
as a homeopathic remedy for seasonal pollen allergies (see the sidebar “Bee
pollen, honey, and allergy relief” earlier in this chapter).
Apitherapy is the use of bee products for treating health disorders. Even the
bees’ venom plays an important role here — in bee-sting therapy. Venom is
administered with success to patients who suffer from arthritis and other
inflammatory/medical conditions. This entire area has become a science
in itself and has been practiced for thousands of years in Asia, Africa, and
Europe. An interesting book on apitherapy is Bee Products — Properties,
Applications and Apitherapy: Proceedings of an International Conference
Held in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 26–30, 1996, published by Kluwer Academic
Publishers (ISBN: 0306455021).
More information on apitherapy is available from the American Apicultural
Determining Your Beekeeping Potential
How do you know whether you’d make a good beekeeper? Is beekeeping the
right hobby for you? Here are a few things worth considering as you ponder
Unless you live on a glacier or on the frozen tundra of Siberia, you probably
can keep bees. Bees are remarkable creatures that do just fine in a wide
range of climates. Beekeepers can be found in areas with long cold winters,
in tropical rain forests, and in nearly every geographic region in-between. If
flowers bloom in your part of the world, you can keep bees.
How about space requirements? You don’t need much. I know many beekeep-
ers in the heart of Manhattan. They have a hive or two on their rooftops or
terraces. Keep in mind that bees travel miles from the hive to gather pollen
and nectar. They’ll forage an area as large as 6,000 acres, doing their thing. So
the only space that you need is enough to accommodate the hive itself.
See Chapter 3 for more specific information on where to locate your bees.
16 Part I: Falling in Love with a Bug
Zoning and legal restrictions
Most communities are quite tolerant of beekeepers, but some have local
ordinances that prohibit beekeeping or restrict the number of hives that you
can have. Some communities let you keep bees but ask that you register your
hives with the local government. Check with your town hall, local zoning
board, or state agricultural experiment station to find out about what’s okay
in your neighborhood.
Obviously you want to practice a good-neighbor policy, so that folks in your
community don’t feel threatened by your unique new hobby. See Chapter 3
for more information on the kinds of things you can do to prevent neighbors
from getting nervous.
Costs and equipment
What does it cost to become a beekeeper? All in all, beekeeping isn’t a very
expensive hobby. You can figure on investing about $200 to $400 for the hive,
equipment, tools, and medication. In addition, you’ll spend $60 to $80 for a
package of bees and queen. For the most part, these are one-time expenses.
Keep in mind, however, the potential for a return on this investment. Your
hive can give you 60 TO 90 pounds of honey every year. At $5 to $7 a pound
(a fair going price for all-natural, raw honey), that should give you an income
of $300 to $600 per hive! Not bad, huh?
Bee pollen, honey, and allergy relief
Pollen is one of the richest and purest of natural
foods, consisting of up to 35 percent protein and
10 percent sugars, carbohydrates, enzymes,
minerals, and vitamins A (carotenes), B1 (thia-
min), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (nicotinic acid), B5 (pan-
othenic acid), C (ascorbic acid), H (biotin), and
Here’s the really neat part: Ingesting small
amounts of pollen every day can actually
help reduce the symptoms of pollen-related
allergies — sort of a homeopathic way of
Of course you can harvest pollen from your
bees, and sprinkle a small amount on your
breakfast cereal or in yogurt (as you might do
with wheat germ). But you don’t really need to
harvest the pollen itself. That’s because raw,
natural honey contains pollen. Pollen’s benefits
are realized every time you take a tablespoon of
honey. Eating local honey every day can relieve
the symptoms of pollen-related allergies, if the
honey is harvested from within a 50-mile radius
of where you live or from an area where the
vegetation is similar to what grows in your com-
munity. Now that you have your own bees, that
isn’t a problem. Allergy relief is only a sweet
17Chapter 1: To Bee or Not to Bee?
See Chapter 4 for a detailed listing of the equipment you’ll need.
How many hives do you need?
Most beekeepers start out with one hive. And that’s probably a good way to
start your first season. But most beekeepers wind up getting a second hive
in short order. Why? For one, it’s twice as much fun! Another more practical
reason for having a second hive is that recognizing normal and abnormal situ-
ations is easier when you have two colonies to compare. In addition, a second
hive enables you to borrow frames from a stronger, larger colony to supple-
ment one that needs a little help. My advice? Start with one hive until you get
the hang of things, and then consider expanding in your second season.
What kind of honey bees should you raise?
The honey bee most frequently raised by beekeepers in the United States
today is European in origin and has the scientific name Apis mellifera.
Of this species, the most popular bee is the so-called “Italian” honey bee.
These bees are docile, hearty, and good honey producers. They are a good
choice for the new beekeeper. See Chapter 5 for more information about dif-
ferent varieties of honey bees.
Time and commitment
Beekeeping isn’t labor intensive. Sure you’ll spend part of a weekend putting
together your new equipment. And I’m anticipating that you’ll be spending
some time reading up on your new hobby. (I sure hope you read my book
from cover to cover!) But the actual time that you absolutely must spend with
your bees is surprisingly modest. Other than your first year (when I urge you
to inspect the hive frequently to find out more about your bees) you need to
make only five to eight visits to your hives every year. Add to that the time
that you spend harvesting honey, repairing equipment, and putting things
away for the season, and you’ll probably devote 35 to 40 hours a year to your
hobby (more if you make a business out of it).
Knowing where honey bees come from
but they’re not native to other parts of the world
(Australia, New Zealand, and the Americas).
Colonies of honey bees were first shipped to
Virginia in 1621, and their honey was used by the
early pioneers as their chief sweetener. These
bees prospered and gradually colonized all of
North America. Today, they’ve become a vital
part of our agricultural economy. Honey bees
didn’t reach Australia and New Zealand until
the early to mid-1800s.
18 Part I: Falling in Love with a Bug
For a more detailed listing of seasonal activities, be sure to read Chapter 8.
Beekeeper personality traits
If you howl like a banshee every time you see an insect, I suspect that bee-
keeping will be an uphill challenge for you. But if you love animals, nature,
and the outdoors, and if you’re curious about how creatures communicate
and contribute to our environment, you’ll be captivated by honey bees. If you
like the idea of “farming” on a small scale, or you’re intrigued by the prospect
of harvesting your own all-natural honey, you’ll enjoy becoming a beekeeper.
Sure, as far as hobbies go, it’s a little unusual, but all that’s part of its allure.
Express your uniqueness and join the ranks of some of the most delightful
and interesting people I’ve ever met . . . backyard beekeepers!
If you’re going to become a beekeeper, you can expect to get stung once in a
while. It’s a fact of life. But when you adopt good habits as a beekeeper, you
can minimize or even eliminate the chances that you’ll be stung.
There are all kinds of interesting facts about
honey. Here’s a hodgepodge of trivia that might
improve your chances of winning a quiz show.
✓ Honey has antibacterial properties and is
used in some cultures to prevent infection
of cuts and burns. A medico friend of mine
recently visited a burn clinic in China where
honey is used in the patients’ dressings.
✓ In olden days, a common practice was for
newlyweds to drink mead (honey wine)
for one month (one phase of the moon) to
assure the birth of a son. Thus the term
✓ The honey bee’s image became a symbol
for kings and religious leaders and was hon-
ored on ancient coins and in mythology.
✓ One gallon of honey (3.79 liters) weighs 11
lbs., 13.2 ounces (5.36 kg.).
✓ The Romans used honey to pay their taxes
(I don’t think the IRS would approve).
✓ Honey found in the tombs of the Egyptian
Pharaohs was still edible. That’s an impres-
sive shelf life!
✓ To produce 1 pound of honey, the bees must
visit 2 million flowers!
19Chapter 1: To Bee or Not to Bee?
All bee stings can hurt a little, but not for long. It’s natural to experience
some swelling, itching, and redness. These are normal (not allergic) reac-
tions. Some folks are mildly allergic to bee stings, and the swelling and dis-
comfort may be more severe. And yet, the most severe and life-threatening
reactions to bee stings occur in less than 1 percent of the population. So the
chances that you’re dangerously allergic to honey bee venom are remote. If
you’re uncertain, check with an allergist, who can determine whether you’re
among the relatively few who should steer clear of beekeeping.
You’ll find more information on bee stings in Chapter 3.
In This Chapter
▶ Recognizing bee parts and what they’re for
▶ Exploring how bees communicate with each other
▶ Getting to know the three castes of honey bee
▶ Appreciating what worker bees do
▶ Understanding the honey bee life cycle
▶ Recognizing the difference between honey bees and other stinging insects
My first introduction to life inside the honey bee hive occurred many
years ago during a school assembly. My classmates and I were shown
a wonderful movie about the secret inner workings of the beehive. The film
mesmerized me. I’d never seen anything so remarkable and fascinating. How
could a bug be so smart and industrious? I couldn’t help being captivated
by the bountiful honey bee. That brief childhood event planted a seed that
blossomed into a treasured hobby some 20 years later.
Anyone who knows even a little bit about the honey bee can’t help but be
amazed, because far more goes on within the hive than most people can
ever imagine: complex communication, social interactions, teamwork,
unique jobs and responsibilities, food gathering, and the engineering of one
of the most impressive living quarters found in nature. Whether newcomer
or old hand, you’ll have many opportunities to experience first-hand the
miracle of beekeeping. Every time that you visit your bees you see something
new. But you’ll get far more out of your new hobby if you understand more
about what you’re looking at. What are the physical components of the bee
that enable it to do its job so effectively? What are those bees up to and
why? What’s normal and what’s not normal? What is a honey bee and what is
an imposter? In this chapter you’ll take a peek within a typical colony of
22 Part I: Falling in Love with a Bug
Basic Body Parts
Everyone knows about at least one part of the honey bee’s anatomy: its
stinger. But you’ll get more out of beekeeping if you understand a little bit
about the other various parts that make up the honey bee. I won’t go into
this in textbook detail — just a few basic parts (see Figure 2-1) to help you
understand what makes them tick.
This is how
a honey bee
looks if you
the hairs off.
of the bee.
Like all insects, the honey bee’s “skeleton” is on the outside. This arrange-
ment is called an exoskeleton. Nearly the entire bee is covered with branched
hairs (like the needles on the branch of a spruce tree). A bee can “feel” with
these hairs, and the hairs serve the bee well when it comes to pollination,
because pollen sticks well to the branched hairs.
The honey bee’s head (see Figure 2-2) is flat and somewhat triangular in
shape. Here’s where you’ll find the bee’s brain and primary sensory organs
(sight, feel, taste, and smell). It’s also where you’ll find important glands
that produce royal jelly and various chemical pheromones used for
23Chapter 2: Life Inside the Honey Bee Hive
Royal jelly is a substance secreted from glands in a worker bee’s head and
used as a food to feed brood.
The important parts of the bee’s head are its:
✓ Eyes: The head includes two large compound eyes that are used for
general-distance sight and three small simple eyes, called ocelli, which
are used in the poor light conditions within the hive. Notice the three
simple eyes (ocellus) on the members of all three castes in Figure 2-2,
while the huge wrap-around compound eyes of the drone make him
easy to identify. The queen’s eyes, however, are slightly smaller than the
✓ Antennae: The honey bee has two antennae in front (attached to its
forehead). Each antenna has thousands of tiny sensors that detect smell
(like a nose does). The bee uses this sense of smell to identify flowers,
water, the colony, and maybe even you! They also, like the branched
hairs mentioned earlier, detect feel.
✓ Mouth parts: The bees’ mandibles (jaws) are used for feeding larvae,
collecting pollen, manipulating wax, and carrying things.
✓ Proboscis: Everyone’s familiar with those noisemakers that show up at
birthday and New Year’s Eve parties. You know, the ones that unroll
when you toot them! The bee’s proboscis is much like those party favors
only without the “toot.” When the bee is at rest, this organ in retracted.
But when the bee is feeding or drinking, it unfolds to form a long tube
that the bee uses like a straw.
24 Part I: Falling in Love with a Bug
The thorax composes the middle part of the bee. It is the segment between
the head and the abdomen where the two pairs of wings and six legs are
✓ Wings: Here’s a question for you: How many wings does a honey bee
have? The answer is four. Two pairs are attached fore and aft to the
bee’s thorax. The wings are hooked together in flight and separate when
the bee is at rest.
✓ Legs: The bee’s three pairs of legs all are different. Each leg has six seg-
ments that make them quite flexible. The bees also have taste receptors
on the tips of their legs. The bee uses its forward-most legs to clean its
antennae. The middle legs help with walking and are used to pack loads
of pollen (and sometimes propolis) onto the pollen baskets that are part
of the hind legs. Propolis is the sticky resinous substance that the bees
collect from the buds of trees and use to seal up cracks in the hive.
Propolis can be harvested and used for a variety of nifty products. For
more information on propolis and what you can do with it, see Chapter
16. The hind legs (see Figure 2-3) are specialized on the worker bee.
They contain special combs and a pollen press, which are used by the
worker bee to brush, collect, pack, and carry pollen and propolis back
to the hive. Take a moment to watch a foraging bee on a flower. You’ll
see her hind legs heavily loaded with pollen for the return trip home.
✓ Spiracles: These tiny holes along the sides of a bee’s thorax and abdo-
men are the means by which a bee breathes. The bee’s trachea (breath-
ing tubes) are attached to these spiracles. It is through the first hole in
the thorax that tracheal mites gain access to the trachea.
image of a
Courtesy of Dr. Eric Erickson, Jr.
25Chapter 2: Life Inside the Honey Bee Hive
The abdomen is the part of the bee’s body that contains its digestive organs,
reproductive organs, wax and scent glands (workers only), and, of course,
the infamous stinger (workers and queen only).
The Amazing Language of Bees
It is said that only man has a form of communication superior to that of the
honey bee. Like you and I, honey bees utilize five senses throughout their
daily lives; however, honey bees have additional communication aids at their
disposal. Two of the methods by which they communicate are of particular
interest. One is chemical, the other choreographic.
What are pheromones? They’re chemical scents that animals produce to
trigger behavioral responses from the other members of the same species.
Honey-bee pheromones provide the “glue” that holds the colony together.
The three castes of bees, of which more is mentioned later in this chapter,
produce various pheromones at various times to stimulate specific
behaviors. The study of pheromones is a topic worthy of an entire book,
so here are just a few basic facts about the ways pheromones help bees
✓ Certain queen pheromones (known as queen substance, discussed at
greater length later in this chapter) let the entire colony know that the
queen is in residence and stimulate many worker bee activities.
✓ Outside of the hive, the queen pheromones act as a sex attractant to
potential suitors (male drone bees). They also regulate the drone (male
bee) population in the hive.
✓ Queen pheromones stimulate many worker bee activities, such as comb
building, brood rearing, foraging, and food storage.
✓ The worker bees at the hive’s entrance produce pheromones that
help guide foraging bees back to their hive. The Nassanoff gland (dis-
cussed later in this chapter) at the tip of the worker bee’s abdomen is
responsible for this alluring scent.
✓ Worker bees produce alarm pheromones that can trigger sudden and
decisive aggression from the colony.
✓ The colony’s brood (developing bee larvae and pupae) secretes special
pheromones that help worker bees recognize the brood’s gender, stage
of development, and feeding needs.
26 Part I: Falling in Love with a Bug
Shall we dance?
Perhaps the most famous and fascinating “language” of the honey bee is
communicated through a series of dances done by foraging worker bees
who return to the hive with news of nectar, pollen, or water. The worker
bees dance on the comb using precise patterns. Depending upon the style
of dance, a variety of information is shared with the honey bees’ sisters.
They’re able to obtain remarkably accurate information about the location
and type of food the foraging bees have discovered.
Two common types of dances are the so-called round dance and the waggle
dance. The round dance communicates that the food source is near the hive
(within 10–80 yards) See Figure 2-4.
For a food source found at a greater distance from the hive, the worker bee
performs the waggle dance. It involves a shivering side-to-side motion of
the abdomen, while the dancing bee forms a figure eight. The vigor of the
waggle, the number of times it is repeated, the direction of the dance, and the
sound the bee makes communicates amazingly precise information about
the location of the food source. See Figure 2-4.
The Waggle Dance
The Round Dance
27Chapter 2: Life Inside the Honey Bee Hive
The dancing bees pause between performances to offer potential recruits a
taste of the goodies they bring back to the hive. Combined with the dancing,
the samples provide additional information about where the food can be
found and what type of flower it is from.
Dividing Honey Bees into Three Castes
During summer months, about 60,000 or more bees reside in a healthy hive.
And while you may think that all those insects look exactly alike, actually
three different castes (worker, queen, and drone, see Figure 2-5) make up the
total population. Each has its own characteristics, roles, and responsibilities.
Upon closer examination, the three types even look a little different, and
being able to distinguish one from the other is important.
Worker Drone Queen
Her majesty, the queen
Let there be no mistake about it — the queen bee is the heart and soul of
the colony. She is the reason for nearly everything the rest of the colony
does. The queen is the only bee without which the rest of the colony cannot
survive. Without her, your hive is sunk. A good quality queen means a strong
and productive hive. For more information on how to evaluate a good queen,
see Chapter 7. And for some real fun, try raising your own queens from your
best performing hives. See Chapter 13.
28 Part I: Falling in Love with a Bug
As a beekeeper, on every visit to the hive you’ll need to determine “do I have a
queen?” and “is she healthy?”
Only one queen lives in a given hive. She is the largest bee in the colony, with
a long and graceful body. She is the only female with fully developed ovaries.
The queen’s two primary purposes are to produce chemical scents that help
regulate the unity of the colony and to lay eggs — and lots of them. She is, in
fact, an egg-laying machine, capable of producing more than 1,500 eggs a day
at 30-second intervals. That many eggs are more than her body weight!
The other bees pay close attention to the queen, tending to her every need.
Like a regal celebrity, she’s always surrounded by a flock of attendants
as she moves about the hive (see Figure 2-6). Yet, she isn’t spoiled. These
attendants are vital, because the queen is totally incapable of tending to her
own basic needs. She can neither feed nor groom herself. She can’t even
leave the hive to relieve herself. And so her doting attendants (the queen’s
court) take care of her basic needs while she tirelessly goes from cell to cell
doing what she does best . . . laying eggs.
A queen and
Courtesy of John Clayton
29Chapter 2: Life Inside the Honey Bee Hive
The gentle queen bee has a stinger, but it is rare for a beekeeper to be stung
by a queen bee. I have handled many queen bees and have never been stung
by any of them. In general, queen bees use their stingers only to kill rival
queens that may emerge or be introduced in the hive.
The queen can live for two or more years, but replacing your queen after a
couple of seasons ensures maximum productivity. Some beekeepers routinely
replace their queens every autumn. That practice ensures that your hive has
a new energetic young queen each spring. You may wonder why you should
replace the queen if she’s still alive? That’s an easy one: As a queen ages,
her egg-laying capability slows down, which results in less and less brood
each season. Less brood means a smaller colony. And a smaller colony means
a lackluster honey harvest for you! For information on how to successfully
introduce a new queen, see Chapter 9. For information on how to raise your
own queens (now that’s fun!), see Chapter 13.
Amazing “queen substances”
In addition to laying eggs, the queen plays a vital
role in maintaining the colony’s cohesiveness
and stability. The mere presence of the queen in
the hive motivates the productivity of the colony.
Her importance to the hive is evident in the
amount of attention paid to her by the worker
bees everywhere she goes in the hive. But, as is
true of every working mom or regal presence,
she can’t be everywhere at once, and she
doesn’t interact with every member of the
colony every day. So, how does the colony know
it has a queen? By her scent. The queen pro-
duces a number of different pheromones (men-
tioned earlier in this chapter) in her mandibular
(jaw) glands that attract workers to her and
stimulate brood rearing, foraging, comb build-
ing, and other activities. Also referred to as
queen substances, these pheromones play an
important role in controlling the behavior of the
colony: Queen substances inhibit the worker
bees from making a new queen and prevent the
development of the worker bees’ ovaries, thus
ensuring that the queen is the only egg-laying
female in the hive. They act as a chemical com-
munication that “all is well — the queen is in
residence and at work.” As a queen ages, these
pheromones diminish, and, when that happens,
the colony knows that it’s time to supersede her
with a new, young queen.
Pheromones are essential in controlling the
well-being of the colony. This queen substance
makes its way around the hive like a bucket bri-
gade. The queen’s attendants pick up the scent
from the queen and transfer it by contact with
neighboring bees. They in turn pass the scent
onto others, and so it distributes throughout the
colony. So effective is this relay, that if the
queen were removed from the hive, the entire
colony would be aware of her loss within hours.
When the workers sense the lack of a queen,
they become listless, and their drive to be pro-
ductive is lost. Without leadership, they nearly
lose their reason for being! First they’re unhappy
and mope around, but then it dawns on them . . .
”let’s make a new queen.”
30 Part I: Falling in Love with a Bug
As a beekeeper, your job is to anticipate problems before they happen. An
aging queen — more than a year old — is something that you can deal with by
replacing her after checking her egg laying before you have a problem.
The industrious little worker bee
The majority of the hive’s population consists of worker bees. Like the queen,
worker bees are all female. Worker bees that are younger than 3 weeks old do
have working ovaries and can lay eggs, but they are not fertile as the workers
never mate and have no sperm. Workers also look different than the queen.
They are smaller, their abdomens are shorter, and on their hind legs they
possess pollen baskets, which are used to tote pollen back from the field.
Like the queen, the worker bee has a stinger. But her stinger is not a smooth
syringe like the queen’s. It has a barb on the end. The barb causes the
stinger, venom sack, and a large part of the bee’s gut to remain in a human
victim — a Kamikaze effort to protect the colony. Only in mammals (such as
humans) does the bee’s stinger get stuck. The bee can sting other insects
again and again while defending its home.
The life span of worker bee is a modest six weeks during the colony’s active
season. However, worker bees live longer (four to eight months) during the
less active winter months. These winter workers are loaded with protein and
are sometimes referred to as “Fat Bees”. The term “busy as a bee” is well
earned. Worker bees do a considerable amount of work, day in and day out.
They work as a team. Life in the hive is one of compulsory cooperation. What
one worker could never do on her own, can be accomplished as a colony.
During the busy season the worker bees literally work themselves to death.
The specific jobs and duties they perform during their short lives vary as they
age. Understanding their roles will deepen your fascination and appreciation
of these remarkable creatures.
From the moment a worker bee emerges from her cell she has many and
varied tasks clearly cut out for her. As she ages, she performs more and more
complex and demanding tasks. Although these various duties usually follow a
set pattern and timeline, they sometimes overlap. A worker bee may change
occupations sometimes within minutes, if there is an urgent need within the
colony for a particular task. They represent teamwork and empowerment at
Initially, a worker’s responsibilities include various tasks within the hive. At
this stage of development, worker bees are referred to as house bees. As they
get older, their duties involve work outside of the hive as field bees.
31Chapter 2: Life Inside the Honey Bee Hive
In the following paragraphs, I highlight the various responsibilities of worker
bees during their short but remarkable lives.
Housekeeping (days 1 to 3)
A worker bee is born with the munchies. Immediately after she emerges from
the cell and grooms herself, she engorges herself with pollen and honey.
Following this binge, one of her first tasks is cleaning out the cell from which
she just emerged. This and other empty cells are cleaned and polished and
left immaculate to receive new eggs and to store nectar and pollen.
Undertaking (days 3 to 16)
The honey bee hive is one of the cleanest and most sterile environments
found in nature. Preventing disease is an important early task for the worker
bee. During the first couple weeks of her life, the worker bee removes any
bees that have died and disposes of the corpses as far from the hive as possi-
ble. Similarly, diseased or dead brood are quickly removed before becoming
a health threat to the colony. Should a larger invader (such as a mouse) be
stung to death within the hive, the workers have an effective way of dealing
with that situation. Obviously a dead mouse is too big for the bees to carry
off. So the workers completely encase the corpse with propolis (a brown
sticky resin collected from trees, and sometimes referred to as bee glue).
Propolis has significant antibacterial qualities. In the hot, dry air of the hive,
the hermetically sealed corpse becomes mummified and is no longer a
source of infection. The bees also use propolis to seal cracks and varnish the
inside walls of the hive.
Working in the nursery (days 4 to 12)
The young worker bees tend to their “baby sisters” by feeding and caring for
the developing larvae. On average, nurse bees check a single larva 1,300
times a day. They feed the larvae a mixture of pollen and honey, and royal
jelly — rich in protein and vitamins — produced from the hypopharyngeal
Royal jelly: The food of royalty
Royal jelly is the powerful, creamy substance
that transforms an ordinary worker bee egg into
a queen bee, and extends her life span from six
weeks to five years! It’s made of digested pollen
and honey or nectar mixed with a chemical
secreted from a gland in a nurse bee’s head. In
health food stores it commands premium prices
rivaling imported caviar. Those in the know use
royal jelly as a dietary supplement and fertility
stimulant. It contains an abundance of nutri-
ents, including essential minerals, B-complex
vitamins, proteins, amino acids, collagen,
essential fatty acids, just to name a few! Sarah
Ferguson (“Fergie”), the former Duchess of
York, is said to have eaten royal jelly while she
was trying to become pregnant.
32 Part I: Falling in Love with a Bug
gland in the worker bee’s head. The number of days spent tending brood
depends upon the quantity of brood in the hive, and the urgency of other
Attending royalty (days 7 to 12)
Because her royal highness is unable to tend to her most basic needs by
herself, some of the workers do these tasks for her. They groom and feed
the queen, and even remove her excrement from the hive. These royal
attendants also coax the queen to continuously lay eggs as she moves about
Going grocery shopping (days 12 to 18)
Young worker bees also take nectar from foraging field bees that are return-
ing to the hive. The house bees deposit this nectar into cells earmarked
for this purpose. They add an enzyme to the nectar and set about fanning
the cells to evaporate the water content and turn the nectar into ripened
honey. The workers similarly take pollen from returning field bees and pack
the pollen into cells. Both the ripened honey and the pollen are food for the
Fanning (days 12 to 18)
Worker bees also take a turn at controlling the temperature and humidity of
the hive. During warm weather and during the honey flow season, you’ll see
groups of bees lined up at one side of the entrance, facing the hive. They fan
furiously to draw air into the hive. Additional fanners are in position within
the hives. This relay of fresh air helps maintain a constant temperature (93 to
95 degrees F) for developing brood. The fanning also hastens the evaporation
of excess moisture from the curing honey.
The workers also perform another kind of fanning, but it isn’t related to
climate control. It has more to do with communication. The bees have a
scent gland located at the end of their abdomen called the Nassanoff gland.
You’ll see worker bees at the entrance with their abdomens arched, and
the moist pink membrane of this gland exposed (see Figure 2-7). They
fan their wings to release this pleasant sweet odor into the air. You can
actually smell it sometimes as you approach the hive. The pheromone is
highly attractive and stimulating to other bees, and serves as an orientation
message to returning foragers, saying: “Come hither . . . this is your hive
and where you belong.”
Beekeepers can purchase synthetic queen bee pheromone and use this chemi-
cal to lure swarms of bees into a trap. The captured swarm then can be used
to populate a new hive.
33Chapter 2: Life Inside the Honey Bee Hive
bee fans her
bers of the
to the hive.
Courtesy of Bee Culture Magazine
Becoming architects and master builders (days 12 to 35)
Worker bees that are about 12 days old are mature enough to begin produc-
ing beeswax. These white flakes of wax are secreted from wax glands on
the underside of the worker bee’s abdomen. They help with the building of
new wax comb and in the capping of ripened honey and cells containing
Some new beekeepers are alarmed when they first see these wax flakes on
the bee. They wrongly think these white chips are an indication of a problem
(disease or mite).
Guarding the hive (days 18 to 21)
The last task of a house bee before she ventures out is that of guarding the
hive. At this stage of maturity, her sting glands have developed to contain an
authoritative amount of venom. You can easily spot the guard bees at the
hive’s entrance (see photo of guard bees in color insert). They are poised
and alert, checking each bee that returns to the hive for a familiar scent. Only
family members are allowed to pass. Strange bees, wasps, hornets, and
others intent on robbing the hives vast stores of honey are bravely driven off.
34 Part I: Falling in Love with a Bug
Bees from other hives are occasionally allowed in when they bribe the guards
with nectar. These bees simply steal a little honey or pollen and leave.
Steppin’ out (days 22 to 42)
With her life half over, the worker bee now ventures outside of the hive and
joins the ranks of field bees. You’ll see them taking their first orientation
flights. The bees face the hive and dart up, down, and all around the entrance.
They’re imprinting the look and location of their home before beginning to
circle the hive and progressively widening those circles, learning landmarks
that ultimately will guide them back home. At this point, worker bees are
foraging for pollen (see Figure 2-8), nectar, water, and propolis (resin
collected from trees).
Foraging bees visit 5 million flowers to produce a single pint of honey. They
forage a two- to three-mile (four- to five-kilometer) radius from the hive in
search of food. That’s the equivalent of nearly 6,000 acres! So don’t think for a
moment that you need to provide everything they need on your property.
They’re ready and willing to travel.
Foraging is the toughest time for the worker bee. It’s difficult and dangerous
work, and it takes its toll. They can get chilled as dusk approaches and die
before they can return to the hive. Sometimes they become a tasty meal for a
bird or other insect. You can spot the old girls returning to the hive. They’ve
grown darker in color, and their wings are torn and tattered. This is how the
worker bee’s life draws to a close . . . working diligently right until the end.
Courtesy of Wellmark International
35Chapter 2: Life Inside the Honey Bee Hive
The woeful drone
This brings us to the only male bee in the colony. Drones make up a relatively
small percentage of the hive’s total population. At the peak of the season
their numbers may be only in the hundreds. You rarely find more than a
New beekeepers often mistake a drone for the queen, because he is larger
and stouter than a worker bee. But his shape is in fact more like a barrel
(the queen’s shape is thinner, more delicate and tapered). The drone’s eyes
are huge and seem to cover his entire head. He doesn’t forage for food
from flowers — he has no pollen baskets. He doesn’t help with the building
of comb — he has no wax-producing glands. Nor can he help defend the
hive — he has no stinger and can be handled by the beekeeper with absolute
The drone gets a bad rap in many bee books. Described as lazy, glutinous,
and incapable of caring for himself, you might even begin wondering what
he’s good for?
He mates! Procreation is the drone’s primary purpose in life. Despite their
high maintenance (they must be fed and cared for by the worker bees),
drones are tolerated and allowed to remain in the hive because they may be
needed to mate with a new virgin queen (when the old queen dies or needs to
be superseded). Mating occurs outside of the hive in mid-flight, 200 to 300
feet in the air. This location is known as the “drone Mating Area”, and it can
be a mile or more away from the hive. The drone’s big eyes come in handy
for spotting virgin queens taking their nuptial flights. The few drones that do
get a chance to mate are in for a sobering surprise. They die after mating!
That’s because their sex organ is barbed (like the worker bee’s stinger). An
organ inside the queen called the “spermatheca” is the receptacle for the
sperm. The queen will mate with several drones during her “nuptial flight”.
After mating with the queen, the drone’s most personal apparatus and a
significant part of its internal anatomy is torn away, and it falls to its death,
a fact that prompts empathetic groans from the men in my lectures and
unsympathetic cheers from the women.
Once the weather gets cooler and the mating season comes to a close, the
workers will not tolerate having drones around. After all, those fellows have
big appetites and would consume a tremendous amount of food during
the perilous winter months. So in cooler climates at the end of the nectar-
producing season, you will see the worker bees systematically expelling the
drones from the hive (see the photo in this book’s color section). They are
literally tossed out the door. For those beekeepers who live in areas that
experience cold winters, this is your signal that the beekeeping season is
over for the year.
36 Part I: Falling in Love with a Bug
Depending upon where you live, the calendar of events for you and your bees
varies depending upon temperature ranges and the time of year. To read more
about the beekeeper’s calendar in your part of the world, see the chart in
The Honey Bee Life Cycle
In winter the hive is virtually dormant. The adult bees are in a tight cluster
for warmth, and their queen is snugly safe in the center of it all. But as the
days lengthen and the spring season approaches, the bees begin feeding
the queen royal jelly. This special food (secreted from the glands near the
workers’ mandibles) is rich in protein and stimulates the queen to start
Like butterflies, honey bees develop in four distinct phases: egg, larva, pupa,
and adult. The total development time varies a bit among the three castes of
bees, but the basic miraculous process is the same: 24 days for drones, 21
days for worker bees, and 16 days for queens.
The metamorphosis begins when the queen lays an egg. You should know
how to spot eggs, because that is one of the most basic and important skills
you need to develop as a beekeeper. It isn’t an easy task, because the eggs
are mighty tiny (only about 1.7 millimeters long). But finding eggs is one of
the surest ways to confirm that your queen is alive and well. It’s a skill you’ll
use just about every time you visit your hive.
The queen lays a single egg in each cell that has been cleaned and prepared
by the workers to raise new brood (see Figure 2-9). The cell must be spotless,
or she moves on to another one.
If she chooses a standard worker-size cell, she releases a fertilized egg into
the cell. That egg develops into a worker bee (female). But if she chooses
a wider drone-size cell, the queen releases a nonfertilized egg. That egg
develops into a drone bee (male). The workers that build the cells are the
ones that regulate the ratio of female worker bees to male drone bees. They
do this by building smaller cells for female worker bees, and larger cells for
male drone bees.
37Chapter 2: Life Inside the Honey Bee Hive
and how the
up” in the
Courtesy of Stephen McDaniel
Having said all that, not all fertilized eggs develop into worker bees. Some
can develop into a regal queen bee. But more on that in Chapter 13.
The queen positions the egg in an upright position (standing on end) at the
bottom of a cell. That’s why they’re so hard to see. When you look straight
down into the cell, you’re looking at the miniscule diameter of the egg, which
is only 0.4 of a millimeter wide. Figure 2-10 shows a microscopic closeup of a
Courtesy of Stephen McDaniel
38 Part I: Falling in Love with a Bug
Eggs are much easier to spot on a bright sunny day. Hold the comb at a slight
angle, and with the sun behind you and shining over your shoulder, illuminate
the deep recesses of the cell. The eggs are translucent white, and resemble a
miniature grain of rice. I recommend that you invest in an inexpensive pair of
reading glasses. The magnification can really help you spot the eggs (even if
you don’t normally need reading glasses). Once you discover your first egg,
it’ll be far easier to know what you’re looking for during future inspections.
Better yet, get yourself a pair of magnifying goggles such as those used by
watch makers and model makers (see Figure 2-11).
a great bee-
Three days after the queen lays the egg, it hatches into a larva (the plural is
larvae). Healthy larvae are snowy white and resemble small grubs curled up
in the cells (see Figure 2-12). Tiny at first, the larvae grow quickly, shedding
their skin five times. These helpless little creatures have voracious appetites,
consuming 1,300 meals a day. The nurse bees first feed the larvae royal jelly,
and later they’re weaned to a mixture of honey and pollen (sometimes
referred to as bee bread). Within just five days, they are 1,570 times larger
than their original size. At this time the worker bees seal the larvae in the cell
with a porous capping of tan beeswax. Once sealed in, the larvae spin a
cocoon around their bodies.
39Chapter 2: Life Inside the Honey Bee Hive
curled up in
Courtesy of John Clayton
The larva is now officially a pupa (the plural is pupae). Here’s where things
really begin to happen. Of course the transformations now taking place
are hidden from sight under the wax cappings. But if you could, you’d see
that this little creature is beginning to take on the familiar features of an
adult bee (see Figure 2-13). The eyes, legs, and wings take shape. Coloration
begins with the eyes. First pink, then purple, then black. Finally, the fine
hairs that cover the bee’s body develop. After 12 days, the now adult bee
chews her way through the wax capping to join her sisters and brothers.
Figure 2-12 shows the entire life cycle of the three castes of honey bee from
start to finish.
40 Part I: Falling in Love with a Bug
an egg and
Courtesy of Dr. Edward Ross, California Academy of Sciences.
of all three
egg to adult.
The Honey Bee Life Cycle
41Chapter 2: Life Inside the Honey Bee Hive
Other Stinging Insects
Many people are quick to say they’ve been “stung by a bee,” but the chances
of a honey bee stinging them are rather slim. Honey bees usually are gentle in
nature, and it is rare for an individual to be stung by a honey bee. Away from
their hives, honey bees are nonaggressive. More aggressive insects are the
more likely culprits when someone is stung. Most folks, however, don’t make
the distinction between honey bees and everything else. They incorrectly
lump all insects with stingers into the “bee” category. True bees are unique in
that their bodies are covered with hair, and they use pollen and nectar from
plants as their sole source of food (they’re not the ones raiding your cola
drink at a picnic — those are likely to be yellow jackets). Here are some of
the most common stinging insects.
The gentle bumblebee (see Figure 2-15) is large, plump, and hairy. It’s a
familiar sight, buzzing loudly from flower to flower, collecting pollen and
nectar. Bumblebees live in small ground nests that die off every autumn. At
the peak of summer, the colony is only a few hundred strong. Bumblebees
make honey, but only small amounts (measured in ounces, not pounds).
They are docile and not inclined to sting, unless their nest is disturbed.
bee is furry
Courtesy of Dr. Edward Ross, California Academy of Sciences
42 Part I: Falling in Love with a Bug
The carpenter bee (see Figure 2-16) looks much like a bumblebee, but its
habits are quite different. It is a solitary bee that makes its nest by tunneling
through solid wood (sometimes the wooden eaves of a barn or shed). Like
the honey bee, the carpenter bee forages for pollen. Its nest is small and pro-
duces only a few dozen offspring a season. Carpenter bees are gentle and are
not likely to sting. But they can do some serious damage to the woodwork on
similar to a
has no hair.
Courtesy of Dr. Edward Ross, California Academy of Sciences
Many different kinds of insects are called “wasps.” The more familiar of
these are distinguished by their smooth hard bodies (usually brown or
black) and familiar ultra-thin “wasp waist” (see Figure 2-17). So-called “social
wasps” build exposed paper or mud nests, which usually are rather small
and contain only a handful of insects and brood. These nests sometimes are
located where we’d rather not have them (in a door frame or windowsill).
The slightest disturbance can lead to defensive behavior and stings. Social
wasps primarily are meat eaters, but adult wasps are attracted to sweets.
Note that wasps and hornets have smooth stingers (no barbs) and can inflict
their furry over and over again. Ouch!
43Chapter 2: Life Inside the Honey Bee Hive
Courtesy of Dr. Edward Ross, California Academy of Sciences
The yellow jacket also is a social wasp. Fierce and highly aggressive, it is
likely responsible for most of the stings wrongly attributed to bees (see
Figure 2-18). Yellow jackets are a familiar sight at summer picnics where they
scavenge for food and sugary drinks. Two basic kinds of yellow jackets exist:
those that build their nests underground (which can create a problem when
noisy lawn mowers or thundering feet pass overhead) and those that make
their nests in trees. All in all, yellow jackets aren’t very friendly bugs.
jacket is a
but also has
a taste for
Courtesy of Dr. Edward Ross, California Academy of Sciences
44 Part I: Falling in Love with a Bug
Bald-faced hornets are not loveable creatures (see Figure 2-19). They are
related to yellow jackets, but they build their nests above ground. Hornets
have a mean disposition and are ruthless hunters and meat eaters. They do,
however, build fantastically impressive and beautiful paper nests from their
saliva and wood fiber they harvest from dead trees (see Figure 2-20). These
nests can grow large during the summer and eventually reach the size of a
basketball. Such nests can contain several thousand hot-tempered hornets —
keep your distance! In nontropical regions, the end of the summer marks
the end of the hornet city. When the cool weather approaches, the nest is
abandoned, and only the queen survives. She finds a warm retreat under-
ground and emerges in the spring, raising young and building a new nest.
Courtesy of Dr. Edward Ross, California Academy of Sciences
made by a
In this part . . .
This is where the fun begins! In these chapters, I tell
you how to get started with honey bees, where you
should locate your hive, and what kind of equipment
you’ll need. I also show you how to successfully and safely
transfer your bees to their new home.
In This Chapter
▶ Avoiding the dreaded stinger
▶ Understanding local restrictions
▶ Winning over your family, friends, and neighbors
▶ Deciding whether you have enough space
▶ Picking the perfect location
▶ Choosing the best time to start
Isuspect all new backyard beekeepers think similar thoughts as they’re
deciding to make the plunge. You’ve thought about beekeeping for some
time. You’re growing more and more intrigued by the idea . . . maybe this is
the year you’re going to do something. It certainly sounds like a lot of fun.
What could be more unique? It’s educational and a nice outdoor activity for
you — back to nature and all that stuff. The bees will do a great job of polli-
nating the garden, and there’s that glorious crop of delicious homegrown
honey to look forward to. And you realize you can make a difference by intro-
ducing a colony of bees in a time when the wild bee population is in jeopardy.
The anticipation is building daily, and you’re consumed with excitement.
That’s it! You’ve made up your mind. You’ll become a beekeeper! But in the
back of your mind some nagging concerns keep bubbling to the surface.
You’re a wee bit concerned about getting stung, aren’t you? Your friends and
family may say you’re crazy for thinking of becoming a beekeeper. What if the
neighbors disapprove when they find out? Maybe bees are not even allowed
in your neighborhood. What happens if the bees don’t like their new home
and all fly away? Help!
Relax. These are certainly some of the concerns that I had when I first
started. In this chapter I hope to defuse your apprehensions and suggest
some helpful ways to deal with those concerns.
48 Part II: Starting Your Adventure
Overcoming Sting Phobia
Perhaps the best-known part of the bee’s anatomy is its stinger. Quite
honestly, that was my biggest apprehension about taking up beekeeping. I
don’t think I’d ever been stung by a honey bee, but I’d certainly felt the wrath
of yellow jackets and hornets. I wanted no part of becoming a daily target
for anything so unpleasant. I fretted about my fear for a long time, looking for
reassurances from experienced beekeepers. They told me time and again
that honey bees bred for beekeeping were docile and seldom inclined to
sting. But lacking first-hand experience, I was doubtful.
The advice turned out to be 100 percent correct. Honey bees are docile and
gentle creatures. To my surprise (and delight), I made it through my entire
first season without receiving a single sting. In the decades that I’ve been
keeping bees, not a single member of my family, not a single visitor to my
home, and not a single neighbor has ever been stung by one of my honey
By the way, bees sting — they don’t bite. Honey bees use their stinger only
as a last resort to defend the colony. After all, they die after stinging. When
bees are away from the hive (while they’re collecting nectar and pollen)
defending the colony is no longer a priority, so they’re as gentle as lambs out
in the field.
Do I ever get stung? Sure. But usually not more than three or four times a
year. In every case, the stings I take are a result of my own carelessness.
I’m rushing, taking short cuts, or am inattentive to their mood — all things
that I shouldn’t do. That sloppiness is merely the result of becoming so
comfortable with my bees that I am not as diligent as I should be. The secret
to avoiding stings is your technique and demeanor.
Here are some helpful tips for avoiding stings:
✓ Always wear a veil and use your smoker when visiting your hive (see
Chapters 4 and 5 for more information on these two vital pieces of
✓ Inspect your bees during pleasant daytime weather. Try to use the hours
between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. That’s when most of the bees are out work-
ing, and fewer bees are at home. Don’t open up the hive at night, during
bad weather, or if a thunderstorm is brewing. In Chapters 6 and 7, I go
into detail about how to open the hive and inspect the colony.
✓ Don’t rush. Take your time and move calmly. Sudden movements are a
49Chapter 3: Alleviating Apprehensions and Making Decisions
✓ Get a good grip on frames. If you drop a frame of bees, you’ll have a
memorable story to tell.
✓ Never swat at bees. Become accustomed to them crawling on your
hands and clothing. They’re just exploring. Bees can be gently pushed
aside if necessary.
✓ When woodenware is stuck together with propolis, don’t snap it apart
with a loud “crack.” The bees go on full alert when they feel sudden
✓ Never leave sugar syrup or honey in open containers near the hive.
Doing so can excite bees into a frenzy, and you may find yourself in the
middle of it. It can also set off robbing — an unwelcome situation in
which bees from other colonies attack your bees, robbing them of their
honey. In Chapter 9 you’ll find instructions on how to avoid robbing, and
what to do when it happens.
✓ Keep yourself and bee clothing laundered. Bees don’t like bad body
odor. If you like to eat garlic, avoid indulging right before visiting your
bees. Chapter 6 has some handy hygiene hints.
✓ Wear light-colored clothing. Bees don’t seem to like dark colors.
Knowing what to do if you’re stung
Be prepared to answer the following question from everyone who hears
you’re a beekeeper: “Do you ever get stung?” You’ll hear this one a hundred
times. An occasional sting is a fact of life for a beekeeper. Following the rules
of the road, however, keeps stings to a minimum, or perhaps you’ll get none
at all. Yet, if a bee stings you or your clothing, calmly remove the stinger and
smoke the area to mask the chemical alarm scent left behind. (This alarm
pheromone can stimulate other bees to sting.) To remove the stinger, you
can use your fingernail to scrape it off your skin.
If you are stung, apply a cold compress and take an antihistamine tablet (such
as Benadryl). Antihistamine creams also are available. Using this technique
alleviates the swelling, itching, and discomfort.
Some folks swear by the effectiveness of baking-soda-and-water poultices for
bee stings; other folks advocate meat tenderizer and wet tobacco poultices,
respectively. These are “grandma recipes” that were used before we had
the antidote that the medical profession endorses — over-the-counter
50 Part II: Starting Your Adventure
Watching for allergic reactions
All bee stings hurt a bit, but not for long. Experiencing redness, swelling, and
itching is completely natural. These are normal (not allergic) reactions. For a
small percentage of individuals, more severe allergic or even toxic reactions
can occur, including severe swelling beyond the immediate area of the sting,
and shortness of breath. In the worst cases, reaction to bee stings can result
in loss of consciousness or even death. The most severe reactions occur in
less than 1 percent of the population. To put that in perspective, more people
are killed by lightning each year than die from bee stings.
As a precaution against a guest having a severe reaction, I keep an EpiPen
(see Figure 3-1) on hand. These emergency sting kits are available from your
doctor by prescription. The kit automatically injects a dosage of epinephrine
(adrenaline). But be careful. Liability issues can arise when injecting another
person, so check with your doctor beforehand.
able only by
Courtesy of Wellmark International
51Chapter 3: Alleviating Apprehensions and Making Decisions
Building up a tolerance
Now this may sound strange, but many beekeepers (myself included) look
forward to getting a few stings early in the season. No, we’re not masochistic.
The more stings we get, the less the swelling and itching. For many, occa-
sional stings actually build up a kind of tolerance. It still smarts, but the side
One school of thought states that bee venom can actually be good for some
health conditions that you may suffer from. This is what bee-sting therapy is
all about; see Chapter 1 for more information.
Understanding Local Laws
Is it legal to keep bees? In most places, the answer is yes. But some areas
have laws or ordinances restricting or even prohibiting beekeeping. For the
most part, such restrictions are limited to highly populated, urban areas.
Other communities may limit the number of hives you can keep, and some
require you to register your bees with town hall. Some communities require
that the state bee inspector inspect the health of your colonies periodically.
If you have any questions about the legality of keeping bees, contact your
state bee inspector, the state agricultural experiment station, or a local bee
club or association.
Bee Culture magazine maintains a terrific online listing of “Who’s Who in the
Beeyard.” This search engine is a great way to find beekeeping clubs, associa-
tions, and agencies in your state. Visit: www.beeculture.com and follow the
links. By the way, there is a 50-percent subscription discount offer on this
journal at the end of this book.
Easing the Minds of Family
For many among the general public, ignorance of honey bees is complete.
Having been stung by hornets and yellow jackets, they assume having any
kind of bee nearby spells trouble. Not true. It’s up to you to take steps to
educate them and alleviate their fears.
52 Part II: Starting Your Adventure
Some things you can do to put them at ease are
✓ Restricting your beeyard to two hives or less. Having a couple of hives is
far less intimidating to the uneducated than if you had a whole phalanx
✓ Locating your hive in such a way that it doesn’t point at your neighbor’s
driveway, your house entrance, or some other pedestrian traffic-way.
Bees fly up, up, and away as they leave the hive. Once they’re 15 feet
from the hive, they’re way above head level.
✓ Not flaunting your hives. Put them in an area where they’ll be
✓ Painting or staining your hives to blend into the environment. Painting
them flame orange is only tempting fate.
✓ Providing a nearby source of water for your bees. That keeps them from
collecting water from your neighbor’s pool or birdbath (see the
“Providing for your thirsty bees” section later in this chapter).
✓ Inviting folks to stop by and watch you inspect your hive. They’ll see
first-hand how gentle bees are, and your own enthusiasm will be
✓ Letting your neighbors know that bees fly in about a three-mile radius of
home plate (that’s roughly 6,000 acres). So mostly they’ll be visiting a
huge area that isn’t anywhere near your neighbor’s property.
✓ Giving gifts of honey to all your immediate neighbors (see Figure 3-2 for
an example). This gesture goes a long ways in the public relations
each of my
to help keep
53Chapter 3: Alleviating Apprehensions and Making Decisions
Location, Location, Location:
Where to Keep Your Hives
You can keep bees just about anywhere: in the countryside, in the city, in a
corner of the garden, by the back door, in a field, on the terrace, or even on
an urban rooftop. You don’t need a great deal of space, nor do you need to
have flowers on your property. Bees will happily travel for miles to forage for
what they need. These girls are amazingly adaptable, but you’ll get optimum
results and a more rewarding honey harvest if you follow some basic guide-
lines (see Figure 3-3). Basically, you’re looking for easy access (so you can
tend to your hives), good drainage (so the bees don’t get wet), a nearby
water source for the bees, dappled sunlight, and minimal wind. Keep in mind
that fulfilling all these criteria may not be possible. Do the best you can by:
✓ Facing your hive to the southeast. That way your bees get an early
morning wake-up call and start foraging early.
✓ Positioning your hive so that it is easily accessible come honey harvest
time. You don’t want to be hauling hundreds of pounds of honey up a
hill on a hot August day.
✓ Providing a windbreak at the rear of the hive (see Figure 3-4). I’ve
planted a few hemlocks behind my hives. Or you can erect a fence made
from posts and burlap, blocking harsh winter winds that can stress the
colony (assuming you live in a climate with cold winters).
✓ Putting the hive in dappled sunlight. Ideally, avoid full sun, because the
warmth of the sun requires the colony to work hard to regulate the
hive’s temperature in the summer. By contrast, you also want to avoid
deep, dark shade, because it can make the hive damp and the colony
✓ Making sure the hive has good ventilation. Avoid placing it in a gully
where the air is still and damp. Also, avoid putting it at the peak of
a hill, should you live in a region where the bee will be subjected to
✓ Placing the hive absolutely level from side to side, and with the front of
the hive just slightly lower than the rear (a difference of an inch or less
is fine), so that any rainwater drains out of the hive (and not into it).
✓ Locating your hive on firm, dry land. Don’t let it sink into the quagmire.
Mulch around the hive prevents grass and weeds from blocking its
54 Part II: Starting Your Adventure
If you are moving bees to a new location that is a mile or two away, no prob-
lem. But if you are moving the hive to a location much less than this, you may
loose all of your field bees because they will return to where the hive used to
be. If you only need to move your hive a short distance (like across your
yard), move the hive a little bit at a time (a few yards each day until you reach
the desired destination).
55Chapter 3: Alleviating Apprehensions and Making Decisions
Providing for your thirsty bees
During their foraging season, bees collect more than just nectar and pollen.
They gather a whole lot of water. They use it to dilute honey that’s too thick,
and to cool the hive during hot weather. Field bees bring water back to
the hive and deposit it in cells, while other bees fan their wings furiously
to evaporate the water and regulate the temperature of the hive.
If your hive is at the edge of a stream or pond, that’s perfect. But if it isn’t,
you should provide a nearby water source for the bees. Keep in mind that
they’ll seek out the nearest water source. You certainly don’t want that to be
your neighbor’s kiddy pool. You can improvise all kinds of watering devices.
Figure 3-5 shows an attractive and natural-looking watering device that I
created on top of a boulder that sits in one of my beeyards. All it took was a
little cement, a dozen rocks and a few minutes of amateur masonry skills.
Consider these other watering options: a pie pan filled with gravel and
topped off with water, a chicken-watering device (available at farm supply
stores; see Figure 3-6), or simply an outdoor faucet that is encouraged to
develop a slow drip.
When it comes to providing water for your bees, here’s a nifty idea that I
learned from a fellow beekeeper. Find or purchase a clean pail or bucket. Any
size, color, or material will do. Just make sure that it’s clean and has never
been used for chemicals, fertilizers, or pesticides. Drill 1
⁄2-inch drainage holes
How to move a full hive
It’s best not to move hives around unless it’s
necessary because it’s disruptive to the bees
and a lot of work for you. But sometimes move
you must. Here are some helpful guidelines:
✓ Plan to make your move in the evening
when the bees are not flying.
✓ Before making the move, tape up any extra
entrance or ventilation holes you have
drilled in the hive (duct tape works great).
✓ Secure the hive together by using heavy-
duty strapping tapes (available at hardware
stores). These strapping tapes use a
ratchet-type buckle to tighten the straps.
Strap the entire hive together as a single
unit: bottom board, hive bodies, and cover.
✓ Staple a strip of window screening across
the front entrance of the hive. Doing so will
keep the bees from flying out of the hive
(and stinging you) while providing them
with adequate ventilation.
✓ Use a hand truck to move the hive (an entire
hive can weigh a couple hundred pounds).
Get a friend to help.
✓ Wear a veil and gloves in case any bees get
loose. I can assure you that they won’t be
happy about this move.
✓ Once the hive is in its new location, wait
until early the next morning to remove the
straps and the entrance screen. This gives
the bees time to calm down.
56 Part II: Starting Your Adventure
all around the top edge of the bucket. The holes should be placed about 2 to
3 inches down from the top. Fill the bucket nearly to the holes with water,
and then float a single layer of Styrofoam packaging pellets on the surface of
the water. The pellets give the bees something to stand on as they sip water.
That way they won’t drown. The drainage holes keep rainwater from over-
flowing the bucket and washing away the pellets. Neat, huh?
You can use a hive top feeder, filled with water (not syrup) as a convenient
way to provide your colony with water.
that I con-
waterer is a
great way to
the tray, so
57Chapter 3: Alleviating Apprehensions and Making Decisions
Understanding the correlation between
geographical area and honey flavors
The type of honey you eat usually is classified by the primary floral sources
from which the bees gathered the nectar. A colony hived in the midst of a
huge orange grove collects nectar from the orange blossoms — thus the bees
make orange-blossom honey. Bees in a field of clover make clover honey, and
so on. As many different kinds of honey can exist as there are flowers that
bloom. The list gets long.
For most hobbyists, the flavor of honey they harvest depends upon the
dominant floral sources in their areas. During the course of a season, your
bees visit many different floral sources. They bring in many different kinds
of nectar. The resulting honey, therefore, can properly be classified as wild-
flower honey, a natural blend of various floral sources.
The beekeeper who is determined to harvest a particular kind of honey
(clover, blueberry, apple blossom, sage, tupelo, buckwheat, and so on) needs
to locate his or her colony in the midst of acres of this preferred source and
must harvest the honey as soon as that desired bloom is over. But, doing so
is not very practical for the backyard beekeeper. Leave it to the professional
My advice? Let the bees do their thing and collect from myriad nectar
sources. You’ll not be disappointed in the resulting harvest, because it will
be unique to your neighborhood and better than anything you have ever
tasted from the supermarket. Guaranteed!
Knowing When to Start Your Adventure
The answer depends upon where you live. A good time to start is a few
months before the “official” launch of the season (when the flowers come
into bloom). There’s a chart in Chapter 8 that will help you determine the
right calendar of events for your region and climate. Generally speaking, in
the United States, the season officially starts in the early spring when the
bee breeders in the southern states have package bees to sell. Don’t wait
until the last minute. Use the “winter” months to order and assemble the
equipment that you’ll need and to reserve a package of bees for early spring
delivery. Read up on bees and beekeeping and become familiar with your
equipment. Join a bee club and attend its meetings. That’s a great way to get
to know more about beekeeping and meet new friends. Many clubs have
special programs for new beekeepers (called newbees) and hands-on week-
end workshops that show you how it’s done. Latch on to a mentor whom you
can call on to answer questions and help you get started.
58 Part II: Starting Your Adventure
Install your bees in the early spring (April or early May is best). Spring varies
from area to area, but you’re trying to time your start to coincide with the
first early season blossoms, and just a few weeks prior to the fruit bloom.
Don’t wait until June or July. Starting a hive in summer won’t give your
colony a chance to grow strong for its first winter.
Be sure to have everything assembled and ready to go before the post office
calls announcing the arrival of your bees. As for what kind of equipment you
need to get for this new adventure, that’s covered in Chapter 4.
In This Chapter
▶ Deciding what equipment and tools to get
▶ Assembling woodenware
▶ Preserving the wood to last for years
▶ Picking up some tricks of the trade
▶ Considering really helpful accessories
Beekeepers use all kinds of fantastic tools, gadgets, and equipment. Quite
frankly, part of the fun of beekeeping is putting your hive together
and using the paraphernalia that goes with it. The makings for a beehive
come in a kit form and are precut to make assembly a breeze. The work is
neither difficult, nor does it require too much skill. Some suppliers will even
assemble the kits for you.
The more adventuresome among you may want to try making your own hives
from scratch. But precise measurements are critical to the bees, and unless
you’re pretty good at carpentry and have a lot of time to spend, purchasing
what you need is probably easier. Once you get the hang of beekeeping, you
can try your hand at making your own hives.
Many different mail order establishments offer beekeeping supplies, and a
number of excellent ones are now on the Internet. Check out a listing of some
of the quality suppliers in Appendix A.
Finding Out about the Langstroth Hive
Many different kinds and sizes of beehives are available. But worldwide,
the most common is the 10-frame Langstroth hive. This so-called moveable
60 Part II: Starting Your Adventure
frame hive with a practical top opening was the 1851 invention of Rev.
Lorenzo L. Langstroth of Pennsylvania (see Figure 4-1). Its design
hasn’t changed much in the last 150 years, which is a testament to its
practicality. Therefore, this is the style of hive we will concentrate on in
Here are some of the benefits of the Langstroth hive:
✓ Langstroth hive parts are completely interchangeable and readily
available from any beekeeping supply vendor.
✓ All interior parts of the hive are spaced exactly three-eighths of an inch
apart (9.525 mm), thus enabling honey bees to build straight and even
combs. Because it provides the right “bee space,” the bees don’t “glue”
parts together with propolis or burr comb.
✓ Langstroth’s design enables beekeepers to freely inspect and manipulate
frames of comb. Prior to this discovery, beekeepers were unable to
inspect hives for disease, and the only way to harvest wax and honey
was to kill the bees or drive them from the hive.
Figure 4-2 shows a simple basket hive, or skep was popular for hundreds of
years in many countries. But, with this design, you have no way to inspect
the bees’ health and no way to harvest honey without destroying the bees
and comb. Although the skep hive is rarely used today, it still is associated
with the public’s “romantic” image of what a beehive looks like.
61Chapter 4: Basic Equipment for Beekeepers
Knowing the Basic Woodenware
Parts of the Hive
Woodenware refers to the various components that collectively result in
the beehive. Traditionally these components are made of wood — thus the
term — but some manufacturers offer synthetic versions of these same
components (plastic, polystyrene, and so on). My advice: Get the wood. The
bees accept it far more readily than synthetic versions. And the smell and
feel of wood is ever so much more pleasurable to work with.
Be aware that the hive parts you order (see “Ordering Hive Parts” later in this
chapter) will arrive in precut pieces. You will need to spend some time assem-
bling them. See “Setting Up Shop” later in this chapter for a list of tools and so
forth that you will need for assembly. Note: Some vendors will preassemble
hives for you, usually for a slight extra charge.
This section discusses, bottom to top, the various components of a modern
Langstroth beehive. As you read this section, refer to Figure 4-3 to see what
the various parts look like and where they are located within the structure of
62 Part II: Starting Your Adventure
of a modern
Shallow honey super
(used only during honey season)
Upper deep (food chamber)
Lower deep (brood chamber)
Slatted rack (optional)
(used only during honey season)
63Chapter 4: Basic Equipment for Beekeepers
The entire hive sits on a hive stand. The best ones are made of cypress — a
wood that is highly resistant to rot. The stand is an important component
of the hive because it elevates the hive off the ground, improving circulation
and minimizing dampness. In addition, grass growing in front of the hive’s
entrance can slow the bees’ ability to get in and out. The stand alleviates that
problem by raising the hive above the grass.
The hive stand consists of three rails and a landing board, upon which the
bees land when they return home from foraging trips. Nailing on the landing
board just right is the only tricky part of hive stand assembly. Carefully
follow the instructions that come with your hive stand. Note: Putting the
stand together on a flat surface helps prevent the stand from wobbling.
The bottom board is the thick bottom floor of the beehive. Like the hive
stand, the best bottom boards are made of cypress wood. This part’s easy
and intuitive to put together.
Some beekeepers will use what’s called a “screened” bottom board in place of
the standard bottom board. This improves ventilation and is helpful when
monitoring the colony’s population of varroa mites (see Chapter 11).
When you order a bottom board, it comes with a notched wooden cleat.
The cleat serves as your entrance reducer, which limits bee access to the
hive and controls ventilation and temperature during cooler months. The
entrance reducer isn’t nailed into place, but rather is placed loosely at the
hive’s entrance. The small notch reduces the entrance of the hive to the
width of a finger. The larger notch (if available on the model you purchase)
opens the entrance to about four finger widths. Removing the entrance
reducer completely opens the entrance.
Beekeepers use the entrance reducer only for newly established hives or
during cold weather (see Chapter 5). This is the reason the entrance reducer
isn’t shown in Figure 4-3. For established hives in warm weather, the entrance
reducer isn’t used at all. The only exception may be when you’re dealing with
a robbing situation — see Chapter 9.
If you can’t find your entrance reducer, use a handful of grass to reduce the
64 Part II: Starting Your Adventure
The deep-hive body contains ten frames of honeycomb. The best quality ones
are made of clear pine or cypress and have crisply cut dovetail joints for
added strength. You’ll need two deep-hive bodies to stack one on top of the
other, like a two-story condo. The bees use the lower deep as the nursery,
or brood chamber, to raise thousands of baby bees. The bees use the upper
deep as the pantry or food chamber, where they store most of the honey and
pollen for their use.
If you live in an area where cold winters just don’t happen, you don’t need
more than one deep hive body for your colony.
The hive body assembles easily. It consists of four precut planks of wood
that come together to form a simple box. Simply match up the four planks,
and hammer a single nail in the center of each of the four joints to keep the
box square. Use a carpenter’s square to even things up before hammering in
the remaining nails.
Place the hive body on the bottom board. If it rocks or wobbles a little, use
some coarse sandpaper or a plane to remove any high spots. The hive body
needs to fit solidly on the stand.
Use a little waterproof wood glue on the joints of all your woodenware before
nailing them together. That gives you a super-strong bond.
No matter what style of honey harvest you choose, a queen excluder is a
basic piece of equipment you need. It’s placed between the deep food cham-
ber and the shallow (or medium) honey supers, the parts of the hive that are
used to collect surplus honey. The queen excluder comes already assembled
and consists of a wooden frame holding a grid of metal wire, or a perforated
sheet of plastic (see Figure 4-4). As the name implies, this gizmo prevents
the queen from entering the honey super and laying eggs. Otherwise, a queen
laying eggs in the super encourages bees to bring pollen into the super,
spoiling the clarity of the honey. The spacing of the grid is such that smaller
worker bees can pass through to the honey supers.
You use a queen excluder only when you place honey supers on the hive
and the bees are bringing in nectar and making it into honey. It is a piece of
woodenware that is unique to honey production. When you are not collecting
honey, it should not be used.
65Chapter 4: Basic Equipment for Beekeepers
Many experienced beekeepers (myself included) will not use a queen excluder
as doing so can slow down the bees’ progress in producing honey. Some say
it may even contribute to swarming (see Chapter 9 for more on swarming).
However, it takes a season or two of experience to judge when it’s okay to
bypass using a queen excluder. My recommendation: Play it safe in year one
and use the queen excluder. Next year you can try not using it when you put
the honey supers on.
Shallow or medium honey super
Honey supers are used by beekeepers to collect surplus honey. That’s your
honey — the honey that you can harvest from your bees. The honey that’s
in the deep-hive body you need to leave for the bees. Supers are identical in
design to the deep-hive bodies — and assemble in a similar manner — but
the depth of the supers is shallower.
For the do-it-yourselfer
If you’re handy, you may want to try building
your own equipment. For the more adventure-
some, I include some plans in Chapter 15 to help
you along. Remember that precise measure-
ments are critical within a hive. Bees require a
precise bee space. If you wind up with too little
space for the bees, they’ll glue everything
together with propolis. Too much space, and
they’ll fill it with burr comb. Either way, it makes
the manipulation and inspection of frames
impossible. So, as the old saying goes, measure
twice and cut once!
66 Part II: Starting Your Adventure
They come in two popular sizes: shallow and medium. The shallow supers
/16 inches deep, and the medium supers are 65
/8 inches deep. Medium
supers are sometimes referred to as “Western” or “Illinois” supers.
Honey supers are put on the hive about eight weeks after you first install
your bees. For the second-year beekeeper, honey supers are placed on the
hive when the first spring flowers start to bloom.
The reduced depth of the supers makes them easy to handle during the
honey harvest. A shallow super full of honey will weigh a hefty (but manage-
able) 40 pounds. A medium super full of honey weighs about 50 pounds.
However a deep-hive body full of honey weighs a backbreaking 80 pounds.
That’s more weight than you’d want to deal with!
You can use medium-size equipment for your entire hive. Three medium-
depth hive bodies are equivalent to two deep hive bodies. Standardizing on
one size means that all of your equipment is 100-percent interchangeable. The
lighter weight of each medium hive body makes lifting much, much easier.
As the bees collect more honey, you can add more honey supers to the hive,
stacking them one on top of another like so many stories to a skyscraper. For
your first season, order one or two honey supers (either shallow or medium).
Making your woodenware last
To get the maximum life from your equipment,
you must protect it from the elements. If you
don’t, wood that’s exposed to the weather rots.
After you’ve assembled your equipment and
before you put your bees in their new home,
paint all the outer surfaces of the hive (see the
following list). Use (at least) two coats of a good
quality outdoor paint (either latex or oil-based
paints are okay). The color is up to you. Any
light pastel color is fine, but avoid dark colors,
because they will make the hive too hot
during summer. White seems to be the most
traditional color. If you prefer, you can stain
your woodenware and treat it with an outdoor
grade of polyurethane.
Do paint/treat the following:
✓ Wooden hive-top feeder (outside surfaces
✓ Outer cover (inside and outside surfaces)
✓ Supers and hive bodies (outside surfaces
✓ Bottom board (all surfaces)
✓ Hive stand (all surfaces)
Do not paint/treat the following:
✓ Inner cover
✓ Inside surfaces of supers, hive bodies, and
wooden hive-top feeder
✓ Queen excluder
67Chapter 4: Basic Equipment for Beekeepers
Each wooden frame contains a single sheet of beeswax foundation (described
in the next section). The frame is kind of like a picture frame. It firmly
holds the wax and enables you to remove these panels of honeycomb for
inspection or honey extraction. Ten deep frames are used in each deep-
hive body, and nine shallow frames usually are used in each shallow honey
super. Frames are the trickiest pieces of equipment you’ll have to assemble.
Beekeeping suppliers usually sell frames in packages of ten, with hardware
Although there are plastic frames and foundation available from some bee-
keeping suppliers, I don’t like the plastic products. I much prefer the “all-
natural” equipment, and I feel the bees share my preference. So in this book, I
will focus on the traditional, wooden frames and pure beeswax foundation.
There is no doubt that plastic won’t rot, nor will it be nibbled up by critters.
Plastic frames last longer than wood, and plastic foundation is far more
durable than delicate wax foundation. However, the bees are very slow to
work plastic foundation into honeycomb. You need a super strong nectar
flow to entice them. Not so with the all-natural setup of wood frames and
beeswax foundation. The bees will eagerly and quickly convert the beeswax
foundation into honeycomb. And the natural stuff smells so good! Want to
be convinced? Use plastic frames and plastic foundation in one hive and
wooden frames and beeswax foundation in a second hive. See for yourself.
Frames come in three basic sizes: deep, shallow, and medium — correspond-
ing to deep hive bodies and shallow or medium honey supers. The method
for assembling deep, shallow, or medium frames is identical. Regardless of its
size, each frame has four basic components: one top bar with a wedge (the
wedge holds the foundation in place), one bottom bar assembly (consisting
of either two rails or a single bar with a slit running its length), and two
sidebars (see Figure 4-5). Frames typically are supplied with the necessary
and correct size nails.
Nine or ten frames?
I like using nine frames in my honey supers. I
also use special spacers along the frame rails to
keep the distance between frames exact. Why
do I use nine? That little extra space between
each frame allows the bees to draw the comb
much deeper. This results in more honey in the
nine frames than there would have been in ten.
68 Part II: Starting Your Adventure
The parts of
Top bar with wedge
Grooved bottom bar
Assemble your frames by following these directions:
1. Take the top bar and snap out the wedge strip. You can use your hive
tool to pry the wedge strip from its place. Clean up any filigree (rough
edges) by scraping the wood with your hive tool. Save the wedge for
use when you’re installing the wax foundation (see the “Foundation”
2. Place the top bar on your tabletop work surface with the flat side facing
down on the table.
3. Take the two side pieces and snap the wider end into the slots at either
end of the top bar.
4. Now snap your bottom bar assembly into the slots at the narrow end of
the side pieces (depending upon the manufacturer, this assembly will
either consist of two rails or a single bar with a slit running its length).
5. Now nail all four pieces together. Use a total of six nails per frame (two
for each end of the top bar, and one at each end of the bottom bar). In
addition to nailing, I suggest that you also glue the parts together using
an all-weather wood glue. Doing so adds strength.
6. Repeat these steps until all your frames are assembled. Time for a break
while the glue dries.
Don’t be tempted to use any shortcuts. Frames undergo all kinds of abuse and
stress, so their structural integrity is vital. Use glue for extra strength and
don’t skimp on the nails nor settle for a bent nail that’s partially driven home.
There’s no cheating when it comes to assembling frames!
69Chapter 4: Basic Equipment for Beekeepers
Foundation consists of thin rectangular sheets that are used to urge your
bees to draw even and uniform honeycombs. It comes in two forms: plastic
and beeswax. Using plastic foundation has some advantages, because it’s
stronger than wax and resists wax moth infestations. But the bees are slow
to accept plastic, and I don’t recommend it for the new beekeeper. Instead,
purchase foundation made from pure beeswax. The bees will accept it much
more quickly than plastic, and you will have a much more productive and
enjoyable first season with your bees. In subsequent seasons you can experi-
ment with plastic – but I’ll bet you come back to the wax! Beeswax foundation
is wired for strength, and imprinted with a hexagonal cell pattern that guides
the bees as they draw out uniform, even combs. Some foundation comes with
the wire already embedded into the foundation (my preference). Some you
must wire manually after installing the foundation in the frames.
Your bees find the sweet smell of beeswax foundation irresistible and quickly
draw out each sheet into thousands of beautiful, uniform cells on each side
where they can store their food, raise brood, and collect honey for you!
Like frames, foundation comes in deep, shallow, and medium sizes — deep
for the deep-hive bodies, shallow for the shallow supers, and medium for the
medium supers. You insert the foundation into the frames the same way for
all of them.
Here’s how to insert foundation into your frames:
1. With one hand, hold the frame upright on the table. Look closely at a
sheet of foundation. If it’s the prewired variety (my recommendation),
you will note that vertical wires protrude from one side and are bent at
right angles. However, wires at the other side are trimmed flush with the
foundation. Drop this flush end into the long groove or slit of the bottom
bar assembly and then coax the other end of the foundation into the
space where the wedge bar was (see Figure 4-6).
2. Turn the frame and foundation upside down (with the top bar now rest-
ing flat on the table). Adjust the foundation laterally so that equal space
is on the left and right. Remember the wedge strip you removed when
assembling the frames . . . now’s the time to use it! Return the wedge
strip to its place, sandwiching the foundation’s bent wires between the
wedge strip and the top bar (see Figure 4-7). Use a brad driver to nail the
wedge strip to the top bar (see Figure 4-8). Start with one brad in the
center, and then one brad at each end of the wedge strip. Add two more
brads for good luck (five total).
Finally, use support pins — they look like little metal clothespins — to
hold the foundation securely in place (see Figure 4-9). The pins go through
predrilled holes in the side bars, and pinch the foundation to hold it in place.
70 Part II: Starting Your Adventure
Although each side bar has three to four predrilled holes, use only two pins
on each sidebar (four per frame). The extra holes are for those who want to
manually wire their foundation – that’s not me!
That’s it! You’ve completed building one frame. Only 19 more to go!
Top bar with wedge strip removed
Grooved bottom bar
strip and the
Grooved bottom bar
71Chapter 4: Basic Equipment for Beekeepers
down, use a
to nail the
Inner covers of good quality are made entirely of cypress wood. Budget
models made from pressboard or Masonite also are available, but they don’t
seem to last as long. Alternatively, there are plastic ones available that will
never rot. See Figure 4-10. The basic design consists of a framed flat plank
with a precut hole in the center of the plank. The inner cover resembles a
shallow tray (with a hole in the center). In some models, a notch is cut out of
one of the lengths of frame. This is a ventilation notch, and it is positioned to
the front of the hive. The inner cover is placed on the hive with the “tray”
72 Part II: Starting Your Adventure
side facing up. See Figure 4-11. If your model has a half-moon ventilation
notch (as seen in the figure) place the notch toward the front of the hive. The
outer cover is placed over this inner cover.
of an inner
73Chapter 4: Basic Equipment for Beekeepers
Look for cypress wood when buying an outer cover. Cypress resists rot and
lasts the longest. Outer covers assemble in a manner similar to the inner
cover: a frame containing flat planks of wood. But the outer cover has a
galvanized steel tray that fits on the top, protecting it from the elements.
Alternatively, there are some plastic models on the market that will never
rot. Not quite as “pretty” as wood, but perhaps practical.
Ordering Hive Parts
Hive manufacturers traditionally make their woodenware out of pine and/or
cypress. Hardwoods are fine, but too expensive for most hobbyists. A custom
mahogany hive, for instance, runs more than $1,000 versus a standard pine
and cypress hive for about $150 to $300. Many suppliers offer various grades
of components from a commercial budget-grade to a select best quality-grade.
Go for the highest quality that your budget allows. Although they may be a
little more expensive upfront, quality parts assemble with greater ease, and
are far more likely to outlast the budget versions.
Any of this stuff is available from beekeeping supply stores. Most of these
vendors are now on the Web. For a listing of some of my favorites, see
Don’t wait until the last minute to order your first startup kit. In the United
States, springtime is the beginning of the beekeeping season. If you wait until
spring to order your kit, you will likely have to wait to get it (the suppliers
become swamped with orders at that time). Ideally it’s best to get all the stuff
you need a few months before you plan to start your hive.
Knowing the right and wrong ways
to put the inner cover on the hive
There is a correct way and incorrect way to put
the inner cover on the hive. Note that there’s a
completely flat side, and a side with a ridge on
all four sides. One some models, one of these
ridges has a ventilation notch cut out of it. The
inner cover goes immediately under the outer
cover. The side with the ridge faces skyward.
The notched ventilation hole goes toward the
front of the hive.
Note: You do not use the inner cover at the
same time you have a hive-top feeder on the
hive. The hive-top feeder (described later in this
chapter) takes the place of the inner cover.
74 Part II: Starting Your Adventure
Startup hive kits
Many suppliers offer a basic startup kit that takes the guesswork out of what
you need to get. These kits often are priced to save a few bucks. Make certain
that your kit contains these basic items, discussed in this section:
✓ Bottom board
✓ Lower and upper deep
✓ Honey super (shallow or medium)
✓ Inner and outer covers
✓ Frames and foundation for both deeps and the honey super
✓ Hardware to assemble stuff (various size nails, foundations pins, and
✓ Veil and gloves
✓ Hive tool
Setting up shop
Before your bees arrive, you’ll need to order and assemble the components
that will become their new home. You don’t need much space for putting
the equipment together. A corner of the garage, basement, or even the
kitchen will do just fine. A worktable is mighty handy, unless you actually
like crawling around on the floor.
Get all your hive parts (woodenware) together and the instruction sheets
that come with them. The only tool you absolutely must have is a hammer.
But having the following also is mighty useful:
Eight frame hives lighten the load
Some beekeepers use smaller hives whose hive
bodies contain only eight frames (versus the
traditional ten frames per hive body). The result
of course is a lighter-weight hive that can be
easier to manipulate. This is a nice option for
the beekeeper who just wants a small hive in
the garden for pollination.
75Chapter 4: Basic Equipment for Beekeepers
✓ A pair of pliers to remove nails that bend when you try to hammer them.
✓ A brad driver with some 3
/4-inch, 18-gauge brads. Having this tool makes
the installation of wax foundation go much faster.
✓ A bottle of good quality all-weather wood glue. Gluing and nailing
woodenware greatly improves their strength and longevity.
✓ A carpenter’s square to ensure parts won’t wobble when assembled.
✓ Some coarse sandpaper or a plane to tidy-up any uneven spots.
✓ A hive tool (I hope one came with your startup kit). It’s pretty handy for
pulling nails and prying off the frame’s wedge strip.
Start assembling your equipment from the ground up. That means starting
with the hive stand, moving on to the bottom board, and so forth. That way
you can begin to build the hive and ensure everything sits level and snug.
The various assembled parts of the hive are not nailed together. They simply
are stacked one on top of the other (like a stack of pancakes). This enables
you to open up and manipulate the hive and its parts during inspections.
Adding on Feeders
Feeders are used to offer sugar syrup to your bees when the nectar flow is
minimal or nonexistent. They also provide a convenient way to medicate
your bees (some medications can be dissolved in sugar syrup and fed to your
bees). You must feed your bees in the early spring and once again in autumn
(see Chapter 8). If needed, you may also want to medicate the colony. Each of
the many different kinds of feeders has its pluses and minuses. I’ve included
a brief description of the more popular varieties.
The hive-top feeder (sometimes called a “Miller” feeder after its inventor, C.
C. Miller) is the model I urge you to use (see Figure 4-12). There are various
models, but the principle is similar from one to the next. As a new beekeeper,
you will love how easy and safe it is to use. The hive-top feeder sits directly
on top of the upper deep brood box and under the outer cover (no inner
cover is used when a hive-top feeder is in place). It has a reservoir that can
hold one to three gallons of syrup. Bees enter the feeder from below by
means of a screened access.
76 Part II: Starting Your Adventure
The hive-top feeder has several distinct advantages over other types of
✓ Its large capacity means that you don’t have to fill the feeder more than
once every week or two.
✓ The screened bee access means that you can fill the feeder without risk
of being stung (the bees are on the opposite side of the screen).
✓ Because you don’t have to completely open the hive to refill it, you don’t
disturb the colony (every time you smoke and open a hive you set the
bees’ progress back a few days).
✓ Because the syrup is not exposed to the sun, you can add medication
without concern that light will diminish its effectiveness.
But with all of these good features, there are a couple of negatives:
✓ Sometimes in the frenzy of feeding, bees will loose their grip on the
screen, and some will drown in the syrup. But there’s an easy remedy —
just float a small wooden dowel in the areas where the bees feed. These
“rafts” give the bees additional footholds.
✓ When they are full, the feeder is awkward and heavy to remove for
Anticipating the length of assembly time
By all means make sure every thing is ready
before your bees arrive on your doorstep. Don’t
wait until the last minute to put things together.
It probably will take a bit longer than you
think, particularly if you are doing this for the
First-timers should allow 3 to 4 hours to
assemble the various hive bodies and
supers, bottom board, and the outer and inner
covers. Assembling frames and installing the
foundation may require another few hours.
And then you need to allow an hour or two to
paint your equipment. Plus there’s the cleanup
time and the time for the paint to dry. All in all,
your weekend is cut out for you.
My advice? Order your equipment 2 to 3
months before your bees are scheduled
to arrive. Use all that extra time to ensure a
timely delivery of the equipment and to
leisurely put things together long before the
77Chapter 4: Basic Equipment for Beekeepers
The entrance feeder (sometimes called a “Boardman” feeder) is a popular
device consisting of a small inverted jar of syrup that sits in a contraption at
the entrance to the hive (see Figure 4-13). Entrance feeders are inexpensive
and simple to use. And they come with many hive kits. But I don’t recom-
mend that you use an entrance feeder. They have few advantages (other than
they are cheap) and have many worrisome disadvantages:
✓ The feeder’s proximity to the entrance can encourage bees from other
hives to rob syrup and honey from your hive.
✓ You’re unable to medicate the syrup because it sits directly in the sun.
✓ The feeder’s exposure to the hot sun tends to spoil the syrup.
✓ Refilling the small jar frequently is necessary (often daily).
✓ Using an entrance feeder in the spring isn’t effective. The entrance
feeder is at the bottom of the hive, but the spring cluster of bees is at
the top of the hive.
✓ Being at the entrance, you risk being stung by guard bees when you refill
78 Part II: Starting Your Adventure
The pail feeder consists of a one-gallon plastic pail with a friction top closure.
Several tiny holes are drilled in its top. The pail is filled with syrup, and
the friction top is snapped into place. The pail then is inverted and placed
over the oval hole in the inner cover (Figure 4-14). These work on the same
principle as a water cooler where the liquid is held in by a vacuum. The
syrup remains in the pail, yet is available to the bees that feed via the small
holes. Although inexpensive and relatively easy to use, it also has a few
✓ This feeder is placed within an empty deep-hive body, with the outer
cover on top.
✓ You essentially must open the hive to refill the feeder, leaving you
vulnerable to stings (see the following Tip to avoid this problem).
✓ Refilling this feeder requires smoking your bees and disrupting the
✓ Its one-gallon capacity requires refilling once or twice a week.
✓ Limited access to syrup means that only a few bees at a time can feed.
Cover the hole on the inner cover with a small piece of #8 wire hardware
cloth, and it will keep the bees from flying out at you when you remove the
bucket for re-filling. The hardware cloth should be affixed to the top side of
the inner cover.
79Chapter 4: Basic Equipment for Beekeepers
hole of the
out of the
Here’s yet another cost-effective solution. Into a one-gallon size sealable
plastic baggie, pour three quarts of syrup. Zip it up. Lay the baggie of syrup
flat and directly on the top bars. Note the air bubble that forms along the
top of the bag. Use a razor blade to make a couple of 2 inch slits into the air
bubble. Squeeze the bag slightly to allow some of the syrup to come through
the slits (this helps the bees “discover” the syrup). Now you will need to
place an empty super and outer cover on the hive (to cover the feeder). See
The advantages of using a baggie feeder are as follows:
✓ Very cost effective
✓ Reduces the likelihood of robbing
✓ Puts the feed directly on top of the bees for easy access
✓ No drowned bees
80 Part II: Starting Your Adventure
There are some disadvantages
✓ You have to disrupt the bees to put new bags on.
✓ The old bags are not reusable once you cut them with a razor.
✓ The bags have to be replaced frequently.
feeder is a
This plastic feeder is a narrow vessel resembling a standard frame that is
placed in the upper deep-hive body, replacing one of the wall frames (see
Figure 4-16). Filled with a pint or two of syrup, bees have direct access to it.
But it isn’t very practical:
✓ Its capacity is small and must be refilled frequently, sometimes daily.
✓ You lose the use of one frame while the feeder is in place.
✓ Opening the hive to refill the feeder is disruptive to the colony and
exposes you to stings.
✓ Bees can drown in the feeder.
81Chapter 4: Basic Equipment for Beekeepers
a frame of
Two tools — the smoker and the hive tool — are a must for the beekeeper.
They’re used every time you visit the hive and are indispensable.
The smoker will become your best friend. Smoke calms the bees and enables
you to safely inspect your hive. Quite simply, the smoker is a fire chamber
with bellows designed to produce lots of cool smoke. Figure out how to light
it so that it stays lit, and never overdo the smoking process. A little smoke
goes a long way. (See Chapter 6 for more about how to use your smoker.)
Smokers come in all shapes, sizes, and price ranges, as shown in Figure 4-17.
The style that you choose doesn’t really matter. The key to a good smoker is
the quality of the bellows. Consider one fabricated from stainless steel to
The versatility of the simple hive tool is impressive. Don’t visit your hives
without it! Use it to scrape wax and propolis off woodenware. Use it to
loosen hive parts, open the hive, and manipulate frames. You can choose
from various models (see Figure 4-18). To see pictures of the hive tool in
action, go to Chapters 6 and 7.
82 Part II: Starting Your Adventure
New beekeepers should wear a long-sleeved shirt when visiting the hive.
Light colors are best — bees don’t like dark colors. Wear long pants and slip-
on boots. Tuck your pant legs into the boots. Alternatively, use Velcro or
elastic strips (even rubber bands) to secure your pant legs closed. You don’t
want a curious bee exploring up your leg! You should also invest in veils and
gloves, which are discussed in this section.
83Chapter 4: Basic Equipment for Beekeepers
Don’t ever visit your hive without wearing a veil. Although your new colony
of bees is likely to be super-gentle (especially during the first few weeks
of the season), it defies common sense to put yourself at risk. As the
colony grows and matures, you will be working with and among upwards
of 60,000 bees.
It’s not that the bees are aggressive (they’re not), but they are super-curious.
They love to explore dark holes (like your ear canal and nostrils). Don’t tempt
fate — wear a veil.
Veils come in many different models (see Figure 4-19) and price ranges. Some
are simple veils that slip over your head; others are integral to a pullover
blouse or even a full jumpsuit. Pick the style that appeals most to you. If your
colony tends to be more aggressive, more protection is advised. But remem-
ber, the more that you wear, the hotter you’ll be during summer inspections.
(See Chapter 6 for additional information on what to wear.)
Keep an extra veil or two on hand for visitors who want to watch while you
inspect your bees.
to keep him
84 Part II: Starting Your Adventure
New beekeepers like the idea of using gloves (see Figure 4-20), but I urge you
not to use them for installing your bees or for routine inspections. You don’t
really need them at those times, especially with a new colony or early in the
season. Gloves only make you clumsier. They inhibit your sense of touch,
which can result in your inadvertently injuring bees. That’s counterproduc-
tive and only makes them more defensive when they see you coming.
The only times that you need to use gloves are
✓ Late in the season (when your colony is at its strongest)
✓ During honey harvest season (when your bees are protective of their
✓ When moving hive bodies (when you have a great deal of heavy work to
do in a short period of time)
Other times leave the gloves at home. If you must, you can use heavy
gardening gloves, or special beekeeping gloves with long sleeves (available
from beekeeping supply vendors).
it’s a good
idea to have
a pair of
Really Helpful Accessories
All kinds of gadgets, gizmos, and doodads are available to the beekeeper.
Some are more useful than others. I describe a few of my favorites in this
85Chapter 4: Basic Equipment for Beekeepers
Elevated hive stand
I have all my hives on elevated stands. Elevated hive stands are something
you’re more likely to build than purchase. The simplest elevated stands are
made from four 14-inch lengths of two-by-four (use these for the legs) and a
single plank of plywood that is large enough to hold the hive (see Figure
4-21). Put the entire hive on top of the elevated stand, raising it a little more
than 14 inches off the ground. Alternatively, fashion an elevated stand from a
few cinderblocks (see Figure 4-22). You can also use posts of various sorts
(see Figure 4-23).
In either case, having the hive off the ground means no bending over during
inspections. Doing so makes the hive far easier to work with. Elevating the
entrance also helps deter skunks from snacking on your bees (see Chapter 11
for more on skunks and other kinds of pests).
your hive off
Note how it
top — this
is to accom-
use of a
86 Part II: Starting Your Adventure
use a level
stump to get
up off the
A frame rest is a super-helpful device that I love. This product hangs on the
side of the hive, providing a convenient and secure place to rest frames
during routine inspections (see Figure 4-24). It holds up to three frames,
giving you plenty of room in the hive to manipulate other frames without
87Chapter 4: Basic Equipment for Beekeepers
A frame rest
is a handy
The long, super-soft bristles of a bee brush enable you to remove bees from
frames and clothing without hurting them (see Figure 4-25). Some beekeepers
use a goose feather for this purpose. Keep that in mind in the event you have
an extra goose around the house.
Use a soft
You might want to sandwich a slatted rack between the hive’s bottom board
and lower deep-hive body (see Figure 4-26). It does an excellent job of helping
air circulation throughout the hive. Also, no cold drafts reach the front of the
hive, which, in turn, encourages the queen to lay eggs right to the front of the
combs. More eggs mean more bees, stronger hives, and more honey for you! I
use a slatted rack on all my hives.
88 Part II: Starting Your Adventure
Screened bottom board
The screened bottom board replaces the standard bottom board. As you can
see in the picture, its bottom is completely open, except for the #8 hardware
cloth screening that makes up its “floor”. The unit also has a removable
“sticky board” that you can use to monitor the colony’s varroa mite popula-
tion. This product has become a standard part of Integrated Pest
With varroa mites a problem for many beekeepers, screened bottom boards
are gaining popularity. (See Chapter 11 for more information on varroa
mites.) A moderate percentage of mites naturally fall off the bees each day
and land on the bottom board of the hive. Ordinarily they just crawl back up
and reattach themselves to the bees, but not when you use a screened
bottom board in place of a regular bottom board. Mites drop off the bees and
either fall to the ground, or they are trapped on a “sticky board” placed under
the screening. Either way, they are unable to crawl back up into the hive.
When using a sticky board, the beekeeper can actually count the number of
mites that have fallen off the bees, and thus monitor the mite population.
More on this practice in Chapter 12.
There is another great advantage of using a screened bottom board —
improved ventilation. Poor ventilation is one of the leading causes of stress
on the colony. Using a screened bottom board (sans sticky board) provides
the ultimate in ventilation.
I am often asked if you use a slatted rack with a screened bottom board. The
answer is no. Use one or the other. Either one will improve ventilation, but
only the screened bottom board will help you monitor the mite population.
89Chapter 4: Basic Equipment for Beekeepers
Some other necessities that all beekeepers should have on hand include:
✓ A spray bottle of alcohol: Fill a small plastic spray bottle with plain
rubbing alcohol. Use this during inspections to clean any sticky honey
or pollen off your hands. Never spray the bees with this!
✓ Baby powder: Dust your hands with baby powder before inspections.
The bees seem to like the smell, and it helps keep your hands clean.
✓ Disposable latex gloves: Available at any pharmacy, I use these during
inspections when propolis is plentiful. The gloves don’t impede my
dexterity, and they keep my hands clean when working among the
authoritatively sticky propolis.
✓ Toolbox: Use a container to hold all your beekeeping tools and hard-
ware. That way everything you need will be available to you during
inspections. Any box will do. I use a fishing tackle box (see Figure 4-27).
toolbox is a
way to tote
In This Chapter
▶ Knowing the kind of honey bee you want to raise
▶ Deciding how and where to obtain your bees
▶ Preparing for your bees’ arrival
▶ Getting the girls into their new home
Ordering your bees and putting them into their new home (hiving) is
just about my favorite part of beekeeping. Hiving your bees is surpris-
ingly easy — and a lot safer than you might imagine. You don’t often get
an opportunity to do it, because once your bees are established, you don’t
need to purchase a new colony. Bees are perennial and remain in their hive
generation after generation. Only when you start a new hive or lose a hive to
disease or starvation do you need to buy and install a new colony of bees.
I was a nervous wreck in the days and hours prior to installing my first
colony. Like an expectant father, I paced the floor nervously until the day
they arrived. And when they arrived, I fretted about how in the world I’d get
all those bees into the hive. Would they fly away? Would they attack and
sting me? Would the queen be okay? Would I do the right things? Help! All
my fears and apprehensions turned out to be unfounded. It was as easy as
pie, and a thoroughly delightful experience.
Determining the Kind of Bee You Want
You can choose from many different races and hybrids of honey bees. Each
strain has its own pluses and minuses. The list below acquaints you with
some of the more common types of bees. Most of these types are readily
available from bee suppliers. Some suppliers even specialize in particular
breeds, so shop around to find what you want.
92 Part II: Starting Your Adventure
✓ Italian (A. m. ligustica): These honey bees are yellow-brown in color
with distinct dark bands. This race originally hails from the Appenine
Peninsula in Italy. They are good comb producers, and the large brood
that Italian bees produce results in quick colony growth. They maintain
a big winter colony, however, which requires large stores of food. You
can help offset this by feeding them before the onset of winter (see
✓ Carniolan (A. m. carnica): These bees are dark in color with broad
gray bands. They originally hail from the mountains of Austria and
Yugoslavia. This type exhibits a strong tendency to swarm. Carniolans
maintain a small winter colony, which requires only small stores of food.
✓ Caucasian (A. m. caucasica): Caucasian bees are mostly gray in color
and are extremely adaptable to harsh weather conditions. They hail
from the Caucasian Mountains near the Black Sea. They make extensive
use of propolis to chink-up drafty openings, which can make quite
a sticky challenge for the beekeeper. Caucasian bees also are prone
to robbing honey, which can create a rather chaotic beeyard. They
can also fall victim to Nosema disease, so be sure to medicate your
Caucasian bees with Fumidil-B every spring and autumn (see Chapter 8).
✓ Buckfast (hybrid): The Buckfast bee was the creation of Brother Adam,
a Benedictine monk at Buckfast Abby in the United Kingdom. Brother
Adam earned a well-deserved reputation as one of the most knowledge-
able bee breeders in the world. The precise heritage of the Buckfast
bee seems to have been known only by Brother Adam — and sadly he
died in 1996 at the impressive age of 98. He mixed the British bee with
scores of bees from other races, seeking the perfect blend of gentleness,
productivity, and disease resistance. The Buckfast bee’s resulting
characteristics have created quite a fan club of beekeepers from all
around the world. The Buckfast bee excels at brood rearing, but exhibits
a tendency, however, toward robbing and absconding from the hive
(see Chapter 9 for information on how to prevent these bad habits).
✓ Russian: In the 1990s, efforts to find a honey bee that was resistant to
varroa and tracheal mites led USDA researches to Russia, where a
strain of honey bee seemed to have developed a resistance to the pesky
mites. Indeed the Russian bees seem to be far better at coping with the
parasites that have created so much trouble for other strains of bees.
These bees have a tendency to curtail brood production when pollen
and nectar is in short supply, resulting in a smaller winter colony — a
helpful trait that leads to better success when it comes to over-wintering
in cold climates. I’ve had good success with Russian bees. Since 2000
Russians have been available from some bee breeders. They are worth
93Chapter 5: Obtaining and Installing Your Bees
✓ Starline (hybrid): This bee was derived as a hybrid strain of Italians and
is the only commercially available hybrid race of Italians. It is regarded
as productive at pollinating clover, so some people refer to the Starline
as the clover bee.
✓ Midnight (hybrid): The double hybrid bee called Midnight is trade-
marked by York Bee Company in Gesup, Georgia. The Midnight bee
makes heavy use of propolis, which can make inspecting a colony of
Midnight bees a sticky challenge for the beekeeper. This bee is a hybrid
combination of both the Caucasian and Carniolan races.
✓ Africanized (hybrid): This bee is not commercially available, nor desir-
able to have. I mention it here because its presence has become a reality
throughout South America, Mexico, and parts of the southern United
States. The list of bee races is not complete without a nod to the so-
called Killer Bee. This bee’s aggressive behavior makes it difficult and
even dangerous to manage. (See Chapter 9 for more on this type of bee.)
Generally speaking, the four characteristics that you should consider when
picking out the bee strain that you want to raise are gentleness, productivity,
disease tolerance, and how well the bees survive winters in cold climates
(such as in the northern United States and Canada). Table 5-1 assigns
the various types of bees listed above a rating from 1 to 3 in these four
categories, with 1 being the most desirable and 3 the least desirable.
Table 5-1 Characteristics of Various Common Honey Bee Types
Bee Type Gentleness Productivity Disease
Italian 1 1 2 2
Russian 1 1 1 1
Carniolan 1 2 2 2
Caucasian 1 2 2 1
2 2 1 1
2 1 2 2
2 2 2 1
Africanized 3 1 1 3
94 Part II: Starting Your Adventure
After all that’s said and done, which kind of bee do I recommend you start
with? Try the Italian or Russian. No doubt about it. They are both gentle,
productive, and do well in many different climates. These are great bees for
beginning beekeepers. Look no further in your first year.
At some point in years to come, you may want to try raising your own
various races and hybrids of bees. Much is involved in breeding bees. It’s
a science that involves a good knowledge of biology, entomology, and
genetics. A good way to get your feet wet is to try raising your own queens.
It’s a way to retain the desirable characteristics of your favorite colonies.
For a primer in raising queens, see Chapter 13.
Deciding How to Obtain
Your Initial Bee Colony
You’ll need some bees if you’re going to be a beekeeper. But where do they
come from? You have several different options when it comes to obtaining
your bees. Some are good; others are not so good. This section describes
these options and their benefits or drawbacks.
Ordering package bees
One of your best options and by far the most popular way to start a new hive
is to order package bees. It’s the choice that I most recommend. You can
order bees by the pound from a reputable supplier. In the United States, bee
breeders are found mostly in the southern states. They will ship just about
anywhere in the continental United States.
A package of bees and a single queen are shipped in a small wooden box with
two screened sides (see Figure 5-1). Packaged bees are sent via U.S. Mail.
A package of bees is about the size of a large shoebox and includes a small
screened cage for the queen (about the size of a matchbook) and a tin can of
sugar syrup that serves to feed the bees during their journey. A three-pound
package of bees contains about 11,000 bees, the ideal size for you to order.
Order one package of bees for each hive that you plan to start.
Order a marked queen with the package. Marked means that a small colored
dot has been painted on her thorax. This dot helps you spot the queen in your
hive during inspections. It also confirms that the queen you see is the one that
you installed (versus discovering an unmarked one that means your queen is
gone and another has taken her place). The color of the dot indicates the year
95Chapter 5: Obtaining and Installing Your Bees
your queen was purchased (a useful thing to know as it allows you to keep
track of the queen’s age — you will want to replace her every couple of years
to keep brood production optimized).
Be sure to pick a reputable dealer with a good track record for providing
healthy and disease-free package bees (criteria for selecting a vendor is
discussed in “Picking a Reputable Supplier” later in this chapter). When
ordering, be sure to ask to see a copy of a certificate of health from the
vendor’s state apiary inspector. If the vendor refuses . . . be wary.
Buying a “nuc” colony
Another good option for the new beekeeper: Find a local beekeeper who can
sell you a nucleus (nuc) colony of bees. A nuc consists of four to five frames
of brood and bees, plus an actively laying queen. All you do is transfer the
frames (bees and all) from the nuc box into your own hive. The box usually
goes back to the supplier. But finding someone who sells nucs isn’t necessar-
ily so easy, because few beekeepers have nucs for sale. After all, raising
96 Part II: Starting Your Adventure
volumes of nucs for sale is a whole lot of work with little reward. But if you
can find a local source, it’s far less stressful for the bees (they don’t have to
go through the mail system). You can also be reasonably sure that the bees
will do well in your geographic area. After all, it’s already the place they call
home! An added plus is that having a local supplier gives you a convenient
place to go when you have beekeeping questions (your own neighborhood
bee mentor). To find a supplier in your neck of the woods, check your yellow
pages under “beekeeping,” call your state’s bee inspector, or ask members of
a local beekeeping club or association.
To find a bee club or association in your state, hop on the internet and go to
www.beeculture.com. Click the link “Who’s Who in North American
Beekeeping” and then select your state. You will find a listing of all the bee
clubs and associations in your area.
A nuc or nucleus consists of a small wooden or cardboard hive (a “nuc
box”; see Figure 5-2) with three to five frames of brood and bees, plus a
Look for a reputable dealer with a good track record for providing healthy
bees (free of disease). Ask whether the state bee inspector inspects the
establishment annually. Request a copy of a certificate of health from the
state. If you can find a reputable beekeeper with nucs, this is a convenient
way to start a hive and quickly build up a strong colony.
Nuc hive body
97Chapter 5: Obtaining and Installing Your Bees
Purchasing an established colony
You may find a local beekeeper who’s willing to sell you a fully established
colony of bees — hive, frames, bees, the whole works! This is fine and dandy,
but more challenging than I recommend for a new beekeeper. First, you
encounter many more bees to deal with than just getting a package or nuc.
And the bees are mature and well established in their hive. They tend to
be more protective of their hive than a newly established colony (you’re
more likely to get stung). Their sheer volume makes inspecting the hive a
challenge. Furthermore, old equipment may be harder to manipulate (things
tend to get glued together with propolis after the first season). More impor-
tant, you also lose the opportunity to discover some of the subtleties of
beekeeping that you can experience only when starting a hive from scratch:
the building of new comb, introducing a new queen, and witnessing the
development of a new colony.
Wait until you’ve gained more experience as a beekeeper. If you’re deter-
mined, however, to select this option, make sure that you have your state’s
apiary inspector look at the colony before agreeing to buy it. You want to be
100-percent certain the colony is free of disease (for more information about
honey bee diseases, see Chapter 12). After all, you wouldn’t buy a used car
without having a mechanic look at it first.
Capturing a wild swarm of bees
Here’s an option where the price is right: Swarms are free. But I don’t recom-
mend this for the first-year beekeeper. Capturing a wild swarm is a bit tricky
for someone who never has handled bees. And you never can be sure of the
health, genetics, and temperament of a wild swarm. In some areas (mostly
the southern United States) you face the possibility that the swarm you
attempt to capture may be Africanized (see Chapter 9). My advice? Save this
adventure for year two.
You can find information about capturing a swarm in Chapter 9.
Picking a Reputable Bee Supplier
By checking advertisements in bee journals and surfing the Internet you’ll
come up with a long list of bee suppliers (see Appendix A for a list of my
favorite suppliers along with information on bee-related Web sites, journals,
and organizations). But all vendors are not created equal. Here are some
rules of thumb for picking a good vendor:
98 Part II: Starting Your Adventure
✓ Be sure to pick a well-established vendor who has been breeding and
selling bees for many years. The beekeeping business is full of well-
meaning amateurs who get in and out of breeding bees. They lack the
experience that results in a responsible breeding program, which can
result in problematic stocks of bees and lackluster customer service.
✓ Look for a supplier with a reputation for consistently producing
healthy bees and providing dependable shipping and good customer
service. Figure 5-3 shows a picture of a well-run commercial bee-
✓ Ask if the establishment is inspected each year by the state’s apiary
inspector. Request a copy of its health certificate. If owners refuse to
comply, look elsewhere.
✓ A reputable supplier replaces a package of bees that dies during ship-
ment. Ask potential suppliers about their replacement guarantee.
✓ Be suspicious of suppliers who make extravagant claims. Some walk
a fine ethical line when they advertise that their bees are “mite or
disease resistant.” No such breed of bee exists. New beekeepers are
easy prey for these charlatans. If the claims sound too good to be true,
they probably are. Look elsewhere.
✓ Consult with representatives of regional bee associations. Contact
your state’s apiary inspector or other bee association representatives.
Find out whom they recommend as suppliers. Get them to share their
experiences with you — good and bad.
✓ Join a local bee club to get vendor recommendations from other
members. This also is a great way to find out more about beekeeping
and latch onto a mentor. Many clubs have “new beekeeper” programs
Deciding how many hives you want
Starting your adventure with two hives of bees
offers certain advantages. Having two gives
you a basis for comparison. It enables you to
borrow frames from a stronger colony to sup-
plement a weaker colony. In some ways two
hives double the fun. You’ll have more bees to
pollinate your garden and more opportunities to
witness what goes on within a colony. And, of
course, you’ll double your honey harvest! You
can also double the rate of your learning curve.
I suggest, however, that you begin with no more
than two hives during your first year. More than
two can be too much for the beginner to handle.
Too many bees can be too time consuming and
present too many new problems to digest before
you really know the subtleties of beekeeping.
99Chapter 5: Obtaining and Installing Your Bees
Courtesy of Bee Culture Magazine
Deciding When to Place Your Order
When you’re ordering packaged bees, you want to time your order so that
you receive your bees as early in the spring as the weather allows. Doing so
gives your colony time to build its numbers for the summer “honey flow” and
means your bees are available for early pollination. Suppliers usually start
shipping packaged bees early in April and continue through the end of May.
Large commercial bee breeders shake bees into screened packages and
ship hundreds of packages daily during this season (see Figure 5-4). After
that, the weather simply is too hot for shipping packaged bees — they won’t
survive the trip during the scorching hot days of summer (most bees ship
from the southern states). Local bee suppliers have nucs available in a
similar time frame.
Don’t wait until springtime to order your bees. Bees are in limited supply and
available on a first-ordered, first-shipped basis. Avoid disappointment. Place
your order early. Ordering in November for delivery the following spring is not
100 Part II: Starting Your Adventure
Courtesy of Bee Culture Magazine
The Day Your Girls Arrive
You may not know the exact day that your bees will arrive, but many
suppliers at least let you know the approximate day they plan to ship your
If your package of bees is being mailed to you, about a week before the antici-
pated date of arrival, alert your local post office that you’re expecting bees.
Make sure that you provide the post office with your telephone number so
you can be reached the moment your bees come in. In most communities the
post office asks that you pick up your bees at the post office. Seldom are bees
delivered right to your door. Instruct the post office that the package needs to
be kept in a cool, dark place until you arrive.
In all likelihood, you’ll receive your “bees-have-arrived” call in the predawn
hours — the instant they arrive at your local post office. Postal workers
will, no doubt, be eager to get rid of that buzzing package! Please note,
however, that this wake-up call is not the signal for you to start assembling
your equipment. Plan ahead! Make sure everything is ready for your girls
before they arrive.
101Chapter 5: Obtaining and Installing Your Bees
Bringing home your bees
When the bees finally arrive, follow these steps in the order they are given:
1. Inspect the package closely.
Make sure that your bees are alive. You may find some dead bees on the
bottom of the package, but that is to be expected. If you find an inch or
more of dead bees on the bottom of the package, however, fill out a form
at the post office and call your vendor. He or she should replace your
2. Take your bees home right away (but don’t put them in the hot, stuffy
trunk of your car).
They’ll be hot, tired, and thirsty from traveling.
3. When you get home, spray the package liberally with cool water using
a clean mister or spray bottle.
4. Place the package of bees in a cool place, such as your basement or
garage, for an hour.
5. After the hour has passed, spray the package of bees with nonmedi-
cated sugar syrup (see recipe that follows).
Don’t brush syrup on the screen, because doing so literally brushes off
many little bee feet in the process.
You must have a means for feeding your bees once they’re in the hive. I
strongly recommend using a good quality hive-top feeder. Alternatively
you can use a feeding pail or a baggie feeder (see Chapter 4 for additional
information on different kinds of feeders).
Recipe for sugar syrup
You’ll likely need to feed your bees sugar syrup twice a year (in spring and in
The early spring feeding stimulates activity in the hive and gets your colony
up and running fast. It also may save lives if the bees’ stores of honey have
dropped dangerously low.
The colony will store the autumn sugar syrup feeding for use during the cold
winter months (assuming your winter has cold months).
In either case, feeding syrup is also a convenient way to administer some
important medications. More on that later.
102 Part II: Starting Your Adventure
If you purchased your bees from a reputable bee breeder, you won’t need
to medicate your bees during your first season. But you may want to feed
them medicated syrup twice a year (spring and autumn) in your second and
✓ Nonmedicated syrup: Boil 21
/2 quarts of water on the stove. When
it comes to a rolling boil, turn off the heat and add 5 pounds of white
granulated sugar. Be sure you turn off the stove. If you continue boiling
the sugar, it may caramelize, and that makes the bees sick. Stir until the
sugar completely dissolves. The syrup must cool to room temperature
before you can feed it to your bees.
✓ Medicated syrup: For medicated syrup, prepare the nonmedicated
syrup recipe as above. Let it cool to room temperature. Mix 1 teaspoon
of Fumigilin-B in approximately a half a cup of cool water (the medica-
tion won’t dissolve directly in the syrup). Fumigilin-B protects your
bees against nosema — a common bee illness (see Chapter 12 for
more information on nosema and other diseases). Add the medication
to the syrup and stir. You also can add two tablespoons of Honey B
Healthy. This food supplement contains essential oils and has a number
of beneficial qualities (see Chapter 12).
Deciding whether or not to medicate is a topic covered in Chapter 11.
Putting Your Bees into the Hive
The fun stuff comes next. Sure, you’ll be nervous. But that’s only because
you’re about to do something you’ve never done before. Take your time
and enjoy the experience. You’ll find that the bees are docile and cooperative.
Read the instructions several times until you become familiar and comfort-
able with the steps. Do a dry run before your girls arrive. The illustrations in
the following section provide a helpful visual clue — after all, a picture is worth
a thousand words.
When I hived my first package of bees, I had my wife standing by with the
instructions, reading them to me one step at a time. What teamwork!
Ideally, hive your bees in the late afternoon on the day that you pick them up,
or the next afternoon. Pick a clear, mild day with little or no wind. If it’s rain-
ing and cold, wait a day. If you absolutely must, you can wait several days to
put them in the hive, but make certain that you spray them two or three
times a day with sugar syrup while they’re waiting to be introduced to their
new home. Don’t wait more than 5 to 6 days to hive them. The sooner the
better. Chances are they’ve been cooped up in that box for several days
before arriving in your yard.
103Chapter 5: Obtaining and Installing Your Bees
Whenever I hive a package of bees, I always invite friends and neighbors to
witness the adventure. They provide great moral support, and it gives them a
chance to see first-hand how gentle the bees actually are. Ask someone to
bring a camera. You’ll love having the photos for your scrapbook!
To hive your bees, follow these steps in the order they are given:
1. Thirty minutes before hiving, spray your bees rather heavily with
nonmedicated sugar syrup.
But don’t drown them with syrup. Use common sense, and they’ll
2. Using your hive tool, pry the wood cover off the package.
Pull the nails or staples out of the cover, and keep the wood cover
3. Jar the package down sharply on its bottom so that your bees fall to
the bottom of the package.
It doesn’t hurt them! Remove the can of syrup from the package and the
queen cage, and loosely replace the wood cover (without the staples).
104 Part II: Starting Your Adventure
4. Examine the queen cage. See the queen?
She’s in there with a few attendants. Is she okay? In rare cases, she may
have died in transit. If that’s the case, go ahead with the installation as if
everything were okay. But call your supplier to order a replacement
queen (there should be no charge). Your colony will be fine while you
wait for your replacement queen.
5. Slide the metal disc on the queen cage to the side slowly.
Remove the cork at one end of the cage so that you can see the white
candy in the hole. If the candy is present, remove the disc completely. If
the candy is missing, you can plug the hole with a small piece of marsh-
mallow. If your package comes with a strip of Apistan (designed to con-
trol mites during shipment), remove it from the back of the queen cage.
6. Out of two small frame nails bent at right angles, fashion a hanging
bracket for the queen cage.
7. Spray your bees again, and jar the package down so the bees drop to
8. Prepare the hive by removing five of the frames, but keep them
Remember that at this point in time you’re using only the lower deep
hive body for your bees. Now hang the queen cage (candy side up)
between the center-most frame and the next frame facing toward the
center. The screen side of the cage needs to face toward the center of
Some packages of bees come with instructions to hang the queen cage
with the candy side down. Don’t do it. If one or more of the attendant bees
in the cage dies, they will fall to the bottom and block the queen’s escape.
By having the candy side “up”, no workers will block the escape hole.
105Chapter 5: Obtaining and Installing Your Bees
9. Spray your bees liberally with syrup one last time.
Jar the package down. Toss away the wood cover and then pour (and
shake) approximately half of the bees directly above the hanging queen
cage. Pour (and shake) the remaining bees into the open area created by
the missing five frames.
10. When the bees disperse a bit, gently replace four of the five frames.
Do this gingerly so you don’t crush any bees. If the pile of bees is too
deep, use your hand (with gloves on) to gently disperse the bees.
106 Part II: Starting Your Adventure
11. Place the inner cover on the hive.
If you’re using a hive-top feeder, it is placed in direct contact with the
bees without the inner cover in between, so skip this step and go to step
12. The inner cover is used only when a jar or pail is used for feeding.
The outer cover is placed on top of the hive-top feeder.
12. Place the hive-top feeder on top of the hive.
Alternatively, invert a one-gallon feeding pail above the oval hole in the
inner cover; add a second deep super on top of the inner cover; and fill
the cavity around the jar with crumpled newspaper for insulation.
13. Plug the inner cover’s half-moon ventilation notch with a clump of
grass (some inner covers do not have this notch).
You want to close off this entrance until the bees become established in
their new home.
14. Now place the outer cover on top of the hive. You’re almost done.
15. Insert your entrance reducer, leaving a one-finger opening for the
bees to defend.
Leave the opening in this manner until the bees build up their numbers
and can defend a larger hive entrance against intruders. This takes
about four weeks. If an entrance reducer isn’t used, use grass to close up
all but an inch or two of the entrance.
Place the entrance reducer so that the openings face “up.” Doing so
allows the bees to climb up over any dead bees that might otherwise
clog the small entrance (see the sidebar “Knowing when and how to use
the entrance reducer”).
You’re done! Take a breath, and leave everything alone for a week. No peek-
ing! The bees may kill the queen if they’re disturbed before five days have
elapsed after her introduction.
Use this first week to get to know your bees. Take a chair out to the hive
and sit to the side of the entrance — about two to three feet from the hive
(within reading distance). Watch the bees as they fly in and out of the hive.
Some of the workers will return to the hive with pollen on their hind legs.
Other bees will be fanning at the entrance ventilating the hive or releasing a
sweet pheromone into the air. This scent is unique to this hive and helps
guide their foraging sisters back to their home. Can you spot the guard bees at
the entrance? They’re the ones alertly checking each bee as she returns to the
hive. Do you see any drones? They are the male bees of the colony and are
slightly larger and more barrel-shaped than the female worker bees. The loud,
deep sound of their buzzing often distinguishes them from their sisters.
Congratulations! You’re now officially a beekeeper. You’ve launched a
wonderful new hobby that can give you a lifetime of enjoyment.
107Chapter 5: Obtaining and Installing Your Bees
Knowing when and how to
use the entrance reducer
The entrance reducer is used for two primary
✓ To regulate the hive’s temperature
✓ To restrict the opening so that a new or
weak colony can better defend the colony
That being the case, here are some guidelines:
reducer in place (utilizing its smallest open-
ing) until approximately six weeks after you
hived your package of bees. Chances are
you can then position the entrance reducer
so that its next largest opening is utilized.
After about eight weeks, you can remove
the entrance reducer completely. By that
time the colony should be strong enough to
defend itself — and the weather should be
warm enough to fully open the entrance.
✓ For an established colony, use the entrance
reducer during long periods of cold weather
(less than 40˚ F; 4˚ C). It helps prevent
heat from escaping from the hive. I prefer
not to use the smallest opening, as I
find it too restrictive — bees that die from
attrition can clog the small opening. As a
general “rule of thumb,” remove the
entrance reducer completely when daytime
temperatures are above 60˚ F; 15˚ C.
In this part . . .
This is where you get up-close and personal with your
honeybees. You will read about the best and safest
ways to inspect and enjoy your bees, as well as maintain
your colony year-round. I also share useful tips and tech-
niques that help you develop good habits right from
In This Chapter
▶ Knowing when and how often to visit your bees
▶ Finding out how to light your smoker
▶ Deciding what to wear
▶ Approaching the hive
▶ Opening the hive
This is the moment you, as a new beekeeper, have been waiting for — that
exhilarating experience when you take your first peek into the hive. You
likely have a touch of fear, tempered by a sweeping wave of curiosity.
Put those fears aside. You’ll soon discover visiting with your bees is an
intoxicating experience that you eagerly look forward to. What you’re about
to see is simply fascinating. It’s also one of the more tranquil and calming
experiences that you can imagine: The warmth of the sun; the sweet smell of
pollen, wax, and honey; the soothing hum of the hive. You’re at one with
nature. Your new friendship with your bees will reward you for many years
The habits you develop in the beginning are likely to stick with you. So
developing good habits early on is important. By getting familiar with the
safe and proper way to inspect your hive and following suggested steps
religiously in the beginning, you’ll minimize any risks of injuring or antagoniz-
ing your bees. The techniques become second nature in no time. Down
the road, you may find variations on the suggested methods that suit you
better. Or helpful hints from other experienced beekeepers. That’s okay.
For now, just relax, move calmly, use good judgment, and enjoy the miracle
Establishing Visiting Hours
Ideally, open your hive on a nice sunny day. Between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. is
best. Under those conditions, thousands of busy worker bees are out in the
112 Part III: Time for a Peek
field. Avoid cold, windy, or rainy weather, because that’s when the entire
colony is at home. With everyone in the hive, you’ll probably find too many
bees to deal with. Particularly when you are just starting. In addition, the
bees tend to be crankier when they can’t get out of the house! You know how
Setting an Inspection Schedule
For the new beekeeper, once a week isn’t too often to visit the bees. Use these
frequent opportunities to find out more about the bees and their life cycles.
Your first season is a time of discovery. You’ll begin recognizing what’s
normal and what’s not. You’ll also become increasingly comfortable with
manipulating the frames and working with the bees. So much so that it soon
becomes second nature, and a quick peek at the entrance or under the lid is
all that’s needed to assure you that all is well. Beekeeping is as much an art as
it is a science. Practice makes perfect.
Once you begin getting the hang of it, you needn’t conduct more than six to
eight thorough inspections a year: Three or four visits in the early spring,
one or two during the summer, and a couple of inspections at the end of
the season are all that are necessary. It’s better not to disturb your bees
Every day that you smoke the bees, open their hive, and pull it apart sets their
productivity back a bit. It takes a day or two for life in the colony to return to
normal. So if harvesting lots of honey is your objective, limit your inspections
to once every few weeks.
This schedule doesn’t apply to your first year — when you need to gain
greater experience by visiting the hive often.
Preparing to Visit Your Hive
The weekend has rolled around, and the weather’s great (mild, sunny, and
not much wind), so you’ve decided that you’re going to pay the girls a visit.
It’s time to see what’s going on in the hive. But you can’t just dash out and
tear the top off the hive. You have to get yourself ready for this special
occasion. What will you wear? How will you approach them? What in the
world do you do with all this new equipment?
113Chapter 6: Opening Your Hive
In the upcoming section, I’ll take you through the details of each step. You
may want to read this chapter and the next one word for word. You may even
want to read it a few times before having your first “close encounter.” You
may also want to take the book along on your first inspection, just in case
you need some quick moral support. Better yet, coerce a friend or family
member to go with you. That’s what I did the first time. I had my wife reading
from a book and prompting me through each step of the way. At the time we
didn’t have an extra veil for her, so she hollered instructions at me from a
Making “non-scents” a part
of personal hygiene
Forgive me for being personal. But you need to know that bees don’t react
well to bad body odor. So, please don’t inspect your bees when you’re all
sweated up after a morning jog. Take a shower first. Brush your teeth. On the
other hand, don’t try to smell too good, either!
Avoid using colognes, perfumes, or scented hairsprays. Sweet smells can
attract more attention from the bees than you want.
Be sure to remove your leather watchband before visiting your bees. They
don’t like the smell of leather or wool, and these materials retain body odor.
Removing any rings from your fingers also is a good idea. It isn’t that bees
don’t like pretty jewelry. But in the rare event that you take a sting on
your hand, you don’t want your fingers swelling up when you’re wearing a
decidedly nonexpandable ring.
Getting dressed up and ready to go
Always wear your veil when you’re inspecting your hive. Doing so keeps the
bees away from your face and prevents them from getting tangled in your
hair. For a discussion of the types of veils that are available, see Chapter 4.
If a bee ever gets under your veil, try not to panic. It isn’t that big a deal.
She’s unlikely to sting you unless you squeeze her. Simply walk away from
the hive and slip off your veil. Don’t remove your veil at the hive, and don’t
thrash around screaming and yelling. Doing so only upsets the bees, and the
neighbors will think you’ve gone wacky.
114 Part III: Time for a Peek
New beekeepers need to wear a long-sleeved shirt. Light colors and smooth
fabrics (like cotton) are best, because bees don’t like dark colors, or the
smell of wool or leather (material made from animals). Using elastic, Velcro
straps, or rubber bands around the cuff of each pant leg and sleeve keeps
clothing bee-tight, unless, of course, you think you might actually like having
curious bees traveling up inside your trousers.
You can use gloves if you feel you absolutely must (see Chapter 4 for more
information about gloves). But I encourage you not to develop that habit.
Gloves are bulky. They impair your sense of touch and make your move-
ments clumsy. When you’re working with new colonies and early spring colo-
nies, gloves aren’t even necessary. These small, young, and gentle colonies
are a delight to work with. Save your gloves for unfavorable weather, moving
colonies around, or for use during the late summer and honey-harvesting
time (when the colony’s population is large and bees tend to be more
defensive). But at all other times, I recommend that you leave the gloves
at home. Trust me. You will thank me later.
Colonies can be handled with far more dexterity and fewer injuries to bees
(and you!) when you don’t use gloves at all. Less injury to bees means a more
Lighting your smoker
The smoker is the beekeeper’s best friend. Yet for many, keeping a smoker lit
can be the trickiest part of beekeeping. It doesn’t have to be. What you’re
trying to achieve is enough thick, cool smoke to last throughout your inspec-
tion. You certainly don’t want your smoker to poop out as soon as you’ve
opened the hive.
Begin with a loosely crumpled piece of newspaper about the size of a tennis
ball. Light the paper and place it in the bottom of the smoker. Nest it in place
using your hive tool. Gently squeeze the bellows a few times until you’re sure
that the paper is burning with a flame.
Add dry matchstick-size kindling, pumping the bellows as you do. As it
ignites (you’ll hear it crackling), slowly add increasingly thicker kindling.
Ultimately, the fattest of your twigs will be about as thick as your thumb.
None of the kindling need be more than four or five inches in length. The
kindling needs to fill three quarters of the smoker, and must be thoroughly
packed from side to side. Using your hive tool, occasionally stoke the fire.
Keep pumping. When your kindling has been burning for about 10 minutes,
and embers are glowing, it’s time to add the real fuel.
115Chapter 6: Opening Your Hive
Use a fuel that burns slowly and gives off lots of smoke. I am partial to dry
wood chips or hemp baling twine. But burlap, dry leaves, and even dry pine
needles do nicely. You can also purchase smoker fuel (usually cartridges of
compacted raw cotton fibers, or nuggets of wood) from beekeeping supply
stores. It works well, too. The bees really don’t care what you use — but
avoid using anything synthetic or potentially toxic. Figure 6-1 shows a smoker
and various kinds of starters and fuels.
I have recently discovered that the compressed wood pellets used as fuel
in pellet stoves make great smoker fuel. Start with crumpled newspaper
and a few twigs, then add a fistful or two of the wood pellets. Your smoker
will produce thick white smoke for hours!
Keep a box of kindling and fuel with your other beekeeping equipment. Having
this readily available saves time on the days that you plan to visit the hive.
Pack the smoker right to the top with your preferred fuel, as you continue to
gently pump the bellows. When billows of thick, cool, and white smoke
emerge, close the top. Pump the bellows a few more times. Use a long, slow
pumping method when working the bellows, rather than short, quick puffs.
Doing so produces more and thicker smoke than short puffs (see Figure 6-2).
with all the
116 Part III: Time for a Peek
Congratulations! You’re now ready to approach the hive. Your smoker should
remain lit for many hours.
Make certain the smoke coming out of the smoker is “cool”. You don’t want to
approach the hive with a smoker that is producing a blast furnace of smoke,
fire, and sparks. Place your hand in front of the chimney as you gently work
the bellows and feel the temperature of the smoke. If it feels comfortable to
you, it will to the bees, too.
Keeping your smoker clean
A good question that I’m frequently asked is:
“My smoker is all gummed up and needs a good
cleaning. How do I clean it?”
After a season or two, the inside of a smoker
can become thickly coated with black, gummy
tar. I’ve found the best way to clean it is by
burning the tar out of it — literally. Like a self-
cleaning oven, you need a great amount of heat.
I’ve had success using a small propane blow-
torch. You can purchase one at any hardware
store. Just apply the flame to the black tar coat-
ing the inside of your smoker. Keep blasting
away. Soon the tar ignites, glows a fiery orange,
and then turns to a powdery ash. Turn off the
blowtorch. Once the metal smoker cools, you
can easily knock the ash out of the smoker.
Clean as a whistle!
117Chapter 6: Opening Your Hive
Opening the Hive
You’re all suited up and you have your smoker and hive tool. Perfect! Be sure
to bring along an old towel (I’ll explain why later in the “Removing the hive-
top feeder” section). So now the moment of truth has arrived. Approach your
hive from the side or rear. Avoid walking right in front of it, because the bees
shooting out the entrance will collide with you. As you approach the hive,
take a moment to observe the bees and then ask yourself, “In what direction
are they leaving the hive?” Usually it’s straight ahead, but, if they’re darting
to the left or right, approach the hive from the opposite side. Follow these
steps to open the hive:
1. Standing at the side and with your smoker 2 or 3 feet from the
entrance, blow several puffs of thick, cool smoke into the hive’s
entrance (see Figure 6-3).
Four good puffs of smoke should do fine. Use good judgment. Don’t
oversmoke them. You’re not trying to asphyxiate the bees; you simply
want to let the guard bees know you’re there.
to calm the
118 Part III: Time for a Peek
2. Still standing at the side of the hive? Good. Now lift one long edge of
the outer cover an inch or so, and blow a few puffs of smoke into the
hive (see Figure 6-4).
Ease the top back down and wait 30 seconds or so. Doing so gives the
smoke time to work its way down into the hive. These puffs are for the
benefit of any guard bees at the top of the hive.
3. Put your smoker down and, using both hands, slowly remove the
Lift it straight up and off the hive. Set the cover upside down on the
ground (with the flat metal top resting on the ground, and its underside
Your next step depends on whether you’re still feeding your bees at the time
of the inspection. If no hive-top feeder is on the colony, skip ahead to the
section “Removing the inner cover.”
What does the smoke do?
Smoke calms bees and prevents them from
turning aggressive during inspections. You may
ask, “Why?” One explanation I was told years
ago is that it tricks bees into thinking there’s a
fire. In nature bees make their homes in hollow
trees. So a forest fire would be a devastating
event. Smelling the smoke, the bees fan
furiously to keep the hive cool. They also begin
collecting their most precious commodity —
honey, engorging their honey stomachs with it
in the event they must abandon ship and
move to a new and safer home. With all the
commotion, they become quite oblivious to the
beekeeper. And when the inspection is com-
plete and the crisis passes, the bees return the
honey to the comb. That way, nothing is lost.
But it’s another explanation that I think is more
likely. The smoke masks the alarm pheromones
given off by worker bees when the hive is
opened. Ordinarily, these alarm pheromones
trigger defensive action on the part of the
colony. But the smoke confounds the bees’ abil-
ity to communicate danger.
In any event, smoking the bees really works.
Don’t even think about opening a hive without
first smoking it. It’s a tempting shortcut that may
work when your colony is brand new, small, and
young. But after that, it’s a shortcut you’ll try
119Chapter 6: Opening Your Hive
calms any of
that may be
Removing the hive-top feeder
If you’re using a hive-top feeder, you’ll need to remove it before inspecting
your hive. To do so, follow these steps:
1. With your smoker, puff some smoke through the screened access, and
down into the hive (see Figure 6-5).
2. Hive parts often stick together, so use the flat end of your hive tool to
gently pry the feeder from the hive body (see Figure 6-6).
Do this slowly, being careful not to pop the parts apart with a loud
“snap.” That only alarms the bees.
120 Part III: Time for a Peek
using a hive-
hive tool as
a lever to
121Chapter 6: Opening Your Hive
Here’s a useful trick. Use one hand to gently press down on the feeder,
while prying the feeder loose with the hive tool in your other hand.
This counterbalance of effort minimizes the possibility of the two parts
suddenly popping apart with a loud “snap.”
3. Loosen one side of the feeder and then walk around and loosen the
4. Blow a few puffs of smoke into the crack created by your hive tool as
you pry loose the feeder.
5. Wait 30 seconds and completely remove the hive-top feeder.
Be careful not to spill any syrup. Set the feeder down on the outer cover
that now is on the ground.
Positioning the feeder at right angles to the cover when you set it down,
results in only two points of contact and makes it less likely that you’ll
crush any bees that remain on the underside of the feeder. Always be
gentle with them, and they’ll always be gentle with you!
Remember the old towel I talked about earlier in this chapter? This is where it
comes in. If syrup remains in the feeder, completely cover it with the towel
(alternatively you can use a small plank of plywood or a scrap of carpeting).
Syrup left in the open attracts the bees — big time! You don’t want to set off
robbing. That’s a nasty situation where bees go into a wild frenzy after finding
free sweets (see Chapter 9). Open containers of syrup (or honey for that
matter) also can attract bees from other colonies. All the gorging bees wind
up whipped into such a lather that they begin robbing honey from your hive.
War breaks out, and hundreds or even thousands of bees can be killed by the
robbing tribe. Enough said! A good rule of thumb: Never leave syrup in the
wide open. Keep it out of reach!
Removing the inner cover
If you’re not using a hive-top feeder, you’ll need to remove the inner cover
(an inner cover is always used unless a top feeder is on the hive). Removing
the inner cover is much like removing the top feeder. Follow these steps:
1. Puff smoke through the oval hole and down into the hive.
2. Using the flat end of your hive tool, gently release the inner cover
from the hive body (see Figure 6-7).
Loosen one side and then walk around and loosen the other side. Pry
slowly, being careful not to pop the parts apart with a loud “crack.”
3. Blow a few puffs of smoke into the crack created by your hive tool as
you pry up the inner cover.
122 Part III: Time for a Peek
wait half a
4. Wait 30 seconds and then completely remove the inner cover.
Set it down on the outer cover that’s now on the ground, or simply lean
it up against a corner of your hive. Careful! Don’t crush any bees that
may still be on the inner cover.
The Hive’s Open! Now What?
Whew! With the feeder or inner cover removed, the hive is officially open.
Relax and take a deep breath. You should see lots of beautiful bees! Here’s
what to do next:
1. Time for the smoker again.
From 1 or 2 feet away, and standing at the rear of the hive, blow several
puffs of cool smoke between the frames and down into the hives.
Pumping the bellows in long, slow puffs, rather than short, quick ones,
make sure that the breeze isn’t preventing smoke from going into the
123Chapter 6: Opening Your Hive
spaces between the frames. Watch the bees. Many of them will retreat
down into the hive.
2. Now you can begin your inspection (see Chapter 7).
Although you have much to do, you don’t want to keep the hive open for
more than 10 to 15 minutes (even less if the weather is cooler than 55° F).
But don’t rush at the expense of being careful! Clumsiness results in
injury to bees, and that can lead to stings. Be gentle with the ladies!
In Chapter 7, I’ll explain exactly what you should look for when the hive’s
In This Chapter
▶ Getting familiar with basic inspection techniques
▶ Removing the first frame
▶ Understanding what you’re looking for
▶ Inspecting the hive during the first eight weeks
Peering out through your veil with your cuffs strapped shut and your
smoker lit, you’ve opened your hive and now see that it’s bustling with
bees. But what exactly are you looking for?
Understanding when to look and what to look for makes the difference
between being a “beekeeper” and a “beehaver.” Anyone can have a hive of
bees, but your goal as a beekeeper is to help these little creatures along.
Understand their needs. Try to anticipate problems. Give them the room they
need before they actually need it. Give them comb in which to store honey
before the nectar starts to flow. Medicate and feed them when a medical
emergency strikes. Get them ready for winter before the weather turns cold.
In return, your bees will reward you with many years of enjoyment and
copious crops of sweet golden honey.
Exploring Basic Inspection Techniques
The approach for inspecting your hive doesn’t vary much from one visit
to another. You always follow certain procedures, and you always look
for certain things. After a few visits to the hive, the mechanics of all this
126 Part III: Time for a Peek
become second nature, and you can concentrate on enjoying the miraculous
discoveries that await you. In this section I give you some pointers that
make each inspection easy.
Removing the first frame
Always begin your inspection of the hive by removing the first frame or wall
frame. That’s the frame closest to the outer wall. Which wall? It doesn’t
matter. Pick a side of the hive to work from, and that determines your first
frame. Here’s how to proceed:
1. Insert the curved end of your hive tool between the first and second
frames, near one end of the frame’s top bar (see Figure 7-1).
2. Twist the tool to separate the frames from each other.
Your hand moves toward the center of the hive — not the end.
3. Repeat this motion at the opposite end of the top bar.
The first frame should now be separated from the second frame.
4. Using both hands, pick up the first frame by the end bars (see
Gently push any bees out of the way as you get a hold of the end
bars. With the frame in both hands slowly lift it straight up and out
of the hive. Be careful not to roll or crush bees as you lift the frame.
Easy does it!
You should never put your fingers on a frame without first noting where the
bees are, because you don’t want to crush any bees, and you don’t want to
get stung. Bees can be easily and safely coaxed away by gently pushing them
aside with your fingers.
Now that you’ve removed the first frame, gently rest it on the ground, leaning
it vertically up against the hive. It’s okay if bees are on it. They’ll be fine. Or,
if you have a frame rest (a handy accessory available at some beekeeping
supply stores) use it to temporarily store the frame.
This is a basic and important first step every time you inspect a colony.
The removal of this frame gives you a wide-open empty space in the hive
for better manipulating the remaining frames without squashing any bees.
Always be sure to remove the wall frame from the hive before attempting to
remove any other frames.
127Chapter 7: What to Expect when You’re Inspecting
to pry the
lift out the
and set it
128 Part III: Time for a Peek
Working your way through the hive
Using your hive tool, loosen frame two and move it into the open slot where
frame one used to be. That gives you enough room to remove this frame
without the risk of injuring any bees. When you’re done looking at this frame,
return it to the hive, close to (but not touching) the wall. Do not put this
frame on the ground.
Work your way through all ten frames in this manner — moving the next
frame to be inspected into the open slot. When you’re done looking
at a frame, always return it snugly against the frame previously inspected.
Use your eyes to monitor progress as the frames are slowly nudged
Be careful not to crush any bees when pushing the frames together. One of
those bees may be the queen! Look down between the frames to make sure
the coast is clear before slowly pushing the frames together. If bees are on the
end bars and at risk of being crushed, you can use the flat end of your hive
tool to gently coax them to move along. A single puff of smoke also urges them
to move out of the way.
Holding up frames for inspection
Holding and inspecting an individual frame the proper way is crucial. Be
sure to stand with your back to the sun, with the light shining over your
shoulder and onto the frame (Figure 7-3). The sun illuminates details deep
in the cells and helps you to better see eggs and small larvae. Here’s an easy
way to inspect both sides of the frame (Figure 7-4 illustrates the following
1. Hold the frame firmly by the tabs at either end of the top bar.
Get a good grip. The last thing you want to do is drop a frame covered
with bees. Their retaliation for your clumsiness will be swift and, no
2. Turn the frame vertically.
3. Then turn the frame like a page of a book.
4. Now smoothly return it to the horizontal position, and you’ll be
viewing the opposite side of the frame.
129Chapter 7: What to Expect when You’re Inspecting
der and onto
of a frame.
130 Part III: Time for a Peek
When inspecting frames, all your movements must be slow and deliberate.
Change hand positions sparingly. Sliding your fingers across the frames as you
reposition your hands is better than lifting your fingers and setting them down
again, because you may land on a bee. As you turn the frame, you want to
avoid any sudden and unnecessary centrifugal force that can disturb the bees.
Knowing when it’s time for more smoke
A few minutes into your inspection, you may notice that the bees all have
lined up between the top bars like racehorses at the starting gate. Their little
heads are all in a row between the frames. Kind of cute, aren’t they? They’re
watching you. That’s your signal to give the girls a few more puffs of smoke
to disperse them again so that you can continue with your inspection.
Understanding what to always look for
Each time that you visit your hive, be aware of the things that you always
must look for. Virtually all inspections are to determine the health and
productivity of the colony. The specifics of what you’re looking for vary
somewhat, depending upon the time of year. But some universal rules-of-
the-road apply to every hive visit.
Checking for your queen
Every time that you visit your hive you’re looking for indications that the
queen is alive and well and laying eggs. If you actually see her, that’s great
and reassuring! But finding the queen becomes increasingly difficult as the
colony becomes larger and more crowded. So how can you tell whether
Rather than spending all that time trying to see the queen, look for eggs.
Although they’re tiny, finding the eggs is much easier than locating a single
queen in a hive of 60,000 bees. Look for eggs on a bright, sunny day. Hold the
comb at a slight angle and with the sun shining over your shoulder. This
illuminates the deep recesses of the cells. The eggs are translucent white,
resembling a miniscule grain of rice (see Figures 2-9 and 2-10 in Chapter 2).
An inexpensive pair of reading glasses can help you spot the eggs — even if
you don’t normally need them. When you see eggs, you can be sure a queen is
in the hive — or at least that she was there within the last two days.
131Chapter 7: What to Expect when You’re Inspecting
Binocular magnifiers (used by hobbyists and watch makers (see Chapter 2)
are better than reading glasses. These magnifiers can be worn under your
veil and tipped out of the way when you are not using them. They make
egg spotting easy, and give you a whole new perspective on the tiny
wonders in the colony. Alternatively, you can make use of a conventional
Storing food; raising brood
Each deep frame of comb contains about 7,000 cells (3,500 on each side).
Honeybees use these cells for storing food and raising brood. When you
inspect your colony, noting what’s going on in those cells is important
because it helps you judge the performance and health of your bees. Ask
yourself: Is there ample pollen and nectar? Are there lots of eggs and brood?
Does the condition of the wax cappings over the brood look normal — or are
the cappings perforated and sunken in (see Chapter 9 for tips on recognizing
Inspecting the brood pattern
Examining brood pattern is an important part of your inspections. A tight,
compact brood pattern is indicative of a good, healthy queen (see this book’s
color insert). Conversely, a spotty brood pattern (many empty cells with only
occasional cells of eggs, larvae, or capped brood) is an indication that you
have an old or sick queen and may need to replace her. How does the capped
brood look? These are cells that the bees have capped with a tan wax. The
tan cappings are porous and enable the developing larvae within to breathe.
The cappings should be smooth and slightly convex. Sunken-in (concave) or
perforated cappings indicate a problem. See Chapter 10 for more information
about how to recognize the telltale signs of brood disease.
Capped brood refers to larvae cells that have been capped with a wax cover,
enabling the larvae to spin cocoons within and turn into pupae.
Learn to identify the different materials collected by your bees and stored
in the cells. They’ll pack pollen in some of the cells. Pollen comes in many
different colors: orange, yellow, brown, gray, blue, and so on. You’ll also see
cells with something “wet” in them. It may be nectar. Or it may be water.
Bees use large amounts of water to cool the hive during hot weather. Other
cells contain capped and cured honey. These cappings usually are bright
white and airtight (versus the tan, porous cappings covering brood cells).
132 Part III: Time for a Peek
After you’ve inspected your last frame, nine frames should be in the hive and
one leaning against it or hanging on the frame rest (the first frame you
removed). Putting the first frame back in the hive means:
1. Slowly pushing the nine frames that are in the hive as a single unit
toward the opposite wall of the hive.
That puts them back where they were when you started your inspection.
Pushing them as a single unit keeps them snugly together and avoids
crushing bees. Focus your eyes on the “point of contact” as you push
the frames together. You’re now left with the open slot from which the
first frame was removed.
2. Smoking the bees one last time to drive them down into the hive.
3. Picking up the frame that’s outside the hive.
Are bees still on it? If so, with a downward thrust, sharply knock one
corner of the frame on the bottom board at the hive’s entrance. The
bees fall off the frame and begin walking into the entrance to the hive.
With no bees remaining on your first frame, you can easily return it to
the hive without the risk of crushing them.
4. Easing the wall frame into the empty slot.
Slowly, please! Make certain that all ten frames fit snugly together. Using
your hive tool as a wedge, adjust the ten-frame unit so that the space
between the frames and the two outer walls is equal.
Closing the hive
You’re almost finished. Follow these steps to close the hive:
1. If you’re using a hive-top feeder, put it back in place immediately on
top of the hive body.
Add more sugar syrup if the pantry is getting low. Now go to Step 4.
2. If you’re not using a hive-top feeder, replacing the inner cover
First remove any bees from the inner cover. Use a downward thrust and
sharply knock one corner of the inner cover on the bottom board at
the hive’s entrance. Better yet, if there is a rock on the ground, use it as
your hard surface rather than the bottom board (it’s less disturbing to
the bees in the hive).
133Chapter 7: What to Expect when You’re Inspecting
3. Place the inner cover back on the hive by sliding it in position from
the rear of the hive so that you don’t crush any bees.
Very slowly slide it into place, and any bees along the top bars or on
the edges of the hive will be pushed gently out of the way. Kind of like a
Note that the notched ventilation hole is positioned upward and toward
the front of the hive. This notched opening allows air to circulate and
gives bees a top floor entrance to the hive. Some manufacturers of bee
equipment do not have this ventilation opening — I suggest getting one
that does have this nice feature.
4. Replace the outer cover (the final step).
Make sure the outer cover is free of any bees. Tap it sharply on the
ground to free it of bees. From the rear of the hive, slide it along
the inner cover, again, gently pushing any bees out of the way (the bull-
dozer technique). Ease it into place, and adjust it so that it sits firmly
and level on the inner cover.
Make sure that the ventilation notch on the outer cover isn’t blocked. From
the rear of the hive, shove the outer cover toward the front of the hive. Doing
so opens the notched ventilation hole in the inner cover and gives the bees
airflow and an alternate entrance.
Congratulations! The bees once again are snugly in their home.
Your New Colony’s First Eight Weeks
For the newly hived colony, some specific beekeeping tasks are unique to the
first few weeks of your first season. When you do any inspection, the general
method for smoking, opening, and removing the frames is identical to the
method given in the “Exploring Basic Inspection Techniques” section earlier
in this chapter.
Checking in: A week after
hiving your bees
After putting your package of bees in the hive, you’ll be impatient to look
inside to see what’s happening. Resist the temptation! You must wait one full
week before opening the hive. The colony needs this first uninterrupted
week for accepting its new queen. Any premature disturbance to the hive can
134 Part III: Time for a Peek
result in the colony rejecting her. The colony may even kill her, thinking the
disturbance is somehow her fault. Play it safe and leave the hive alone for
one week. During that time, worker bees eat through the candy and release
the queen from her cage. She becomes the accepted leader of the colony.
As mentioned in Chapter 6, conduct your first inspection on a mild, sunny day
(55° F or more) with little or no wind. As always, visit your hive sometime
between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Smoke and open your hive, and remove the first frame. Place it vertically on
the ground, leaning it up against the hive. Other than a few occasional bees,
not much will be happening on this frame. In all likelihood, the bees haven’t
had time to draw the foundation into honeycomb.
As you continue your inspection of each subsequent frame, you should
begin to see more and more going on. Toward the center of the hive you
should see that the girls have been busily drawing out the wax foundation
Verifying that the queen was released
When you reach the two frames sandwiching the queen cage, look down in
the hole where the candy plug was. If the candy is gone, that’s wonderful! It
means worker bees have opened the cage and released the queen. Remove
the cage and peek inside. Confirm that the queen has been released. Place
the cage near the entrance so that any worker bees that you find exploring
in the cage find their way back into the hive.
Removing any burr comb
You’re likely to find that industrious bees have built lots of burr comb (some-
times called natural comb, wild comb, or brace comb) in the gap created by
the queen cage. You may find comb on and around the queen cage itself.
Although it’s beautiful bit of engineering, you must remove this bright white
comb of perfectly symmetrical cells. Failing to do so is sure to create all kinds
of headaches for you later in the season.
In all likelihood this wild comb will contain eggs (it’s the first place the
queen lays eggs). Spotting those eggs will confirm you have a laying queen
in the hive.
Burr comb refers to bits of random wax comb that connect two frames
together or connect any hive parts together. Such comb is an extension of
comb beyond what the bees build within the frames. Burr comb needs to be
removed by the beekeeper to facilitate manipulation and inspection of frames.
135Chapter 7: What to Expect when You’re Inspecting
Using your hive tool to sever the burr comb where it’s connected to the
frames, slowly lift the comb straight up and out of the hive. You’ll probably
find it covered with worker bees.
Examine the comb to ensure the queen isn’t on it. If she is, you must gently
remove her from the comb and place her back into the hive. Queens are quite
easy to handle, and although they have a stinger, they’re not inclined to use
it. Simply wet your thumb and index finger and gently grasp her by her wings.
She moves quickly, so it may take a few tries. Don’t jab at her, but rather
treat her as if she were made of eggshells. Easy does it!
Removing the bees from this burr comb is essential. One or two good shakes
dislodge the bees from the comb. Shaking bees loose is a technique that will
come in handy many times in the future.
Shaking is a sharp downward motion with an abrupt halt just above the hive.
Save the natural comb to study at your leisure back at home. Look for eggs,
because the queen often starts laying on this comb. It makes a great “show
and tell” for children! And you can always use beeswax to make cool things,
like candles, furniture polish, and cosmetics recipes.
Looking for eggs
Taking a close look at the frames that were near the queen cage, what do
you see? Pollen? Nectar? Great! Do you see any eggs? They’re the primary
things you’re looking for during your first inspection (see “Exploring Basic
Inspection Techniques” earlier in this chapter). When eggs are present, you
know the queen already is at work. That’s all you need to find out on this first
inspection. Close things up, and leave the bees alone for another week. Be
satisfied that all is well. Because the weather likely is still cool, you don’t
want to expose the new colony to the elements for too long.
If no queen or eggs can be found, you may have a problem. In this abnormal
situation, wait another few days and check once again. Seeing eggs is evidence
enough that you have a queen, but if you still find no evidence of the queen,
you need to order a new one from your bee supplier. The colony will do okay
while awaiting its new queen, which you’ll introduce exactly as you did the
original: by hanging the cage between two frames and leaving the bees alone
for a full week.
New beekeepers often have a really hard time finding eggs. Before you give up
hope as to whether there are any, look again. If you still don’t see them, look
again. And use a magnifier. Chances are they are there, and you just have not
gained experience as to what you are looking at. Remember, they are very,
136 Part III: Time for a Peek
Replacing the tenth frame
The tenth frame is the one that you removed when you originally hived your
package. It now becomes your wall frame.
Providing more syrup
When necessary, replenish your hive-top feeder with more sugar syrup. The
recipe for sugar syrup can be found in Chapter 5.
The second and third weeks
On that first visit, you were looking for evidence that the queen had been
released and was laying eggs. During the inspections that you conduct two
and three weeks after hiving your package, you’re trying to determine how
well the queen is performing. By now there are a lot of new things to see and
Following standard procedure, smoke, open the hive, and remove frames one
by one for inspection. Work your way toward the center of the hive. As
always, look for eggs. They’re your ongoing assurance that the queen is in
Note that the bees have drawn more of the foundation into honeycomb. They
work from the center outward, so that the outer five to six frames haven’t
likely been drawn out yet. That’s normal.
Looking for larvae
By the second week you can easily see larvae in various stages of develop-
ment (see Figure 7-5). They should be bright white and glistening like snowy
white shrimp! Looking closely, you may even witness a larva moving in its
cell or spot a worker bee feeding one.
Evaluating your queen
Estimate how many eggs her majesty is laying. One good way to tell is if you
have one or two frames with both sides 3
/4-filled with eggs and larvae. That
means your queen is doing a super fantastic job. Congratulations!
If you have one or two frames with only one side filled, she’s doing moder-
ately well. If you find fewer than that, she’s doing poorly, and you need to
consider replacing her as soon as possible. See Chapter 9 for instructions on
how to replace your queen.
137Chapter 7: What to Expect when You’re Inspecting
Hunting for capped brood
By the third week you’ll begin seeing capped brood — the final stage of the
bees’ metamorphosis. Capped brood are light tan in color, but note that the
brood cappings on older comb are a darker tan or even dark brown. The
capped brood are located on frames that are closest to the center of the hive.
Cells with eggs and larvae are on the adjacent frames.
An excellent queen lays eggs in nearly every cell, skipping few cells along the
way and resulting in a pattern of eggs, larvae, and capped brood that is tightly
packed together, stretching all the way across most of the frame.
note eggs in
Courtesy of Dr. Edward Ross, California Academy of Sciences
You’ll also notice a crescent of pollen above each capped brood, and a cres-
cent of nectar or capped honey above the pollen. This is a picture-perfect
A spotty and loose brood pattern also can be evidence of a problem. You may
have a poor queen, in which case she should be replaced as soon as possible.
Sunken or perforated brood cappings may be evidence of brood disease, in
which case you must diagnose the cause and take steps to medicate. (See
Chapter 10 for more about bee diseases and remedies.)
138 Part III: Time for a Peek
Looking for supersedure cells
The third week also is when you need to start looking for supersedure cells
(also called queen cells). The bees create supersedure cells if they believe
their queen is not performing up-to-par. These peanut-shaped appendages
are an indication that the colony may be planning to replace (or supersede)
the queen. Queen cells located on the upper two-thirds of the frame are
supersedure cells (see Figure 7-6). On the other hand, queen cells located on
the lower third of the frame are not supersedure cells but are called swarm
cells, which are discussed later in this chapter. Note: Swarming seldom is a
problem with a new hive this early in the season.
The bees create swarm cells to raise a new queen in preparation for the act
of swarming. This usually happens when conditions in the hive become too
crowded. The colony decides to split in half — with half the population
leaving the hive (swarming) with the old queen and the remaining half staying
behind with the makings for a new queen (the ones that are developing in the
queen cells, or swarm cells).
If you spot more than three to four supersedure cells, you need to order a new
queen, because giving the bees a new queen is far better than letting them
create their own. Furthermore, you’ll lose less time and guarantee a desirable
Supersedure is a natural occurrence when a colony replaces an old or ailing
queen with a new queen.
in the upper
of the frame;
139Chapter 7: What to Expect when You’re Inspecting
Provide more syrup
Check every week to see whether your hive-top feeder has enough sugar
syrup. Replenish as needed. The recipe for sugar syrup is in Chapter 5. Just
pour it into the feeder.
Weeks four through eight
Things really are buzzing now that a month has passed since you hived your
bees. Or at least they should be.
Perform your inspection as always, looking for evidence of the queen (eggs)
and a good pattern of capped brood, pollen, and capped honey.
Adding a second deep hive body
If all’s well, by the end of the fourth week the bees have drawn nearly all the
foundation into comb. They’ve added wax produced in their wax glands to
the foundation, creating the comb cells in which they store pollen, honey,
and brood. When seven of the ten frames are drawn into the comb, you want
to add your second deep hive body (see Chapter 4 for more information).
Anticipate the need for this addition because timing is important. If you wait
too long, the colony may grow too fast (with up to 2,000 new bees emerging
every day!), become overcrowded, and eventually swarm. Add the second
deep hive body too early and the colony below loses heat, and the brood
may become chilled and die.
When adding the second deep hive body becomes necessary, follow these
1. Smoke your hive as usual.
2. Remove the outer cover and the hive-top feeder (or the inner cover,
if one is being used).
3. Place the second deep directly on top of the original hive body.
4. Fill the new second story with ten frames and foundation (see
5. Put the hive-top feeder directly on top of the new upper deep, and
below the outer cover.
Replenish sugar syrup if needed.
6. Replace the outer cover.
140 Part III: Time for a Peek
The upper deep will be used during the early summer for raising brood. But
later on it serves as the food chamber for storing honey and pollen for the
upcoming winter season.
Witnessing a miracle!
By the fifth week the frames are jam-packed with eggs, larvae, capped brood,
pollen, and honey. Look carefully at the capped brood. You may see a miracle
in the making. Watch for movement under the capping. A new bee is about to
emerge! She’ll chew her way out of the cell and crawl out (see Figure 7-7). At
first, she totters about, looking like a newborn, yet she quickly learns how to
use her legs. She appears lighter in color than her sisters and is covered with
soft, damp hairs. Her eyes are tiny at first, but in a few days will be the same
size as her sisters. What a joy this is to witness. Savor the moment!
Watching for swarm cells
During weeks six through eight, continue looking for queen cells, but you also
want to be on the lookout for cells in the lower third of the frames. They are
swarm cells (as mentioned previously in this chapter), which are an early
indication that the hive may consider swarming. During your first season,
don’t be too concerned if you spot an occasional swarm cell. It isn’t likely
that a new colony will swarm. However, when you find eight or more of these
swarm cells, you can be fairly certain the colony intends to swarm.
You don’t want a swarm to happen. When a colony swarms, half the popula-
tion leaves with the old queen looking for a new and more spacious home.
Before that happens, the bees take steps — evidenced by the presence of
141Chapter 7: What to Expect when You’re Inspecting
swarm cells — to create a new queen. But with half of the girls gone, and
several weeks lost while the new virgin queen gets up to speed, you’re left
with far fewer bees gathering honey for you. Your harvest will be only a
fraction of what it might otherwise have been. Prevent this unhappy situation
before it happens by anticipating the bees’ need for more space and adequate
ventilation. (See Chapter 9 for more about swarming.)
Providing more ventilation
During weeks five or six, you need to improve hive ventilation by opening the
hive entrance. Turn the entrance reducer so that the larger of its two open-
ings is in position. The larger opening is about 4 inches wide. (Eventually, the
reducer is completely removed.) The colony is now robust enough to protect
itself, and the weather is milder.
You can remove the entrance reducer completely in the eighth week follow-
ing the installation of your bees.
Manipulating the frames of foundation
By the seventh or eighth week, manipulate the order of frames to encourage
the bees to draw out more foundation into comb cells. You can do this by
placing any frames of foundation that haven’t been drawn between frames of
newly drawn comb. However, don’t place these frames smack in the middle
of the brood nest. That would be counterproductive because doing so
splits (or breaks) the nest apart, making it difficult for bees to regulate the
environment of the temperature-sensitive brood.
Making room for honey!
As the eighth week approaches, you may find that the bees may have drawn
out seven of the ten frames in the upper deep. When that happens, remove
the hive-top feeder and add a queen excluder and a shallow honey super with
frames and foundation (see Chapter 4 for more information on woodenware).
The girls now are ready to start collecting honey for you!
The act of adding shallow (honey) supers to a colony is called supering.
Inspecting your multi-level hive
Now that there are two hive bodies (later there will also be honey supers)
you have more than just one “box” to inspect. You will need to inspect the
entire colony: both the lower deep and the upper deep. The process is the
same as any inspection, except you will first need to systematically remove
all the honey supers and the upper deep to get down to the lower deep.
That’s where you will begin your frame-by-frame inspection.
142 Part III: Time for a Peek
Once all the frames in the lower deep are inspected, replace the upper deep
and begin your frame-by-frame inspection of it. As always, you are checking
for evidence of the queen, a good laying pattern, and healthy brood.
As the season progresses, the upper deep will be used by the bees to store
honey, so you won’t find the queen, any eggs or brood in the upper deep.
The lower deep is where the action is as summer progresses. That will be the
focus of your inspection. (See Figure 7-8.)
Shaking bees off frames is a technique you will use often.
up on the
ground) as a
ies as you
the hive for
Courtesy of John Clayton
143Chapter 7: What to Expect when You’re Inspecting
What to do about propolis during inspections
Here’s a question I’m often asked: “My bees
have built comb on and around some of the
frames. There’s comb along the bottom bars,
and they’ve glued some of the frames together
with propolis. Should I scrape this wax and
propolis off, or should I leave things as the bees
to scrape extra wax and propolis off the frames.
Don’t let it build up, or the job will become too
daunting to do anything about it. Take a few
minutes during every inspection to tidy things
up. Getting into the habit of cleaning house will
save you tons of work later on. If you allow the
bees to glue everything together, it’s tempting
to forgo a necessary inspection to avoid the
challenge of pulling things apart. Don’t let the
bees get the upper hand. Scrape it off!
In This Chapter
▶ Beekeeping chores for summer, autumn, winter, and spring
▶ Starting your second season
The seasonal calendar of events in Maine obviously looks different
than one in southern California. But different climates mean different
schedules and activities for the hive and beekeeper. Regardless of their
precise location, honey bees are impacted by the general change of seasons.
Knowing what major activities are taking place within the hive and what’s
expected of you during these seasons is useful. For a good beekeeper,
anticipation is the key to success.
This chapter contains a suggested schedule of seasonal activities for the
beekeeper. However, you must note that geography, weather, climate, neigh-
borhood, and even the type of bees influence the timing of these activities.
The book is written from the viewpoint of a beekeeper experiencing a distinct
change in seasons and climate (spring, summer, autumn, winter).
There is a beekeeper’s calendar and map at the end of this chapter. Use
this as a guide to relate the timing of these activities to where in the world
I also suggest some important tasks for the beekeeper and provide a rough
estimate of the amount of time that you’ll need to spend with your bees
during each season. These time estimates are based on maintaining one to
Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer
Nectar flow usually reaches its peak during summer. That’s also when the
population of the colony usually reaches its peak. When that’s the case, your
146 Part III: Time for a Peek
colonies are quite self sufficient, boiling with worker bees tirelessly collecting
pollen, gathering nectar, and making honey. Note, however, that the queen’s
rate of egg laying drops a bit during the late summer.
On hot and humid nights, you may see a huge curtain of bees hanging on
the exterior of the hive. Don’t worry. They’re simply cooling off on the
front porch. Consider providing better ventilation for the colony by adding
Late in summer the colony’s growth begins to diminish. Drones still are
around, but outside activity begins slowing down when the nectar flow slows.
Bees seem to be restless and become protective of their honey.
Your summer “to-do” list
Here are some activities you can expect to schedule between trips to the
beach and hot-dog picnics.
✓ Inspecting the hive every other week, making sure that it’s healthy and
that the queen is present.
✓ Adding honey supers as needed. Keep your fingers crossed in anticipa-
tion of a great honey harvest.
✓ Keeping up swarm control through mid-summer (see Chapters 7 and 9).
Late in the summer there is little chance of swarming.
✓ Being on the lookout for honey-robbing wasps or other bees. A hive
under full attack is a nasty situation (see Chapter 9 for information
about how to deal with robbing).
✓ Harvesting your honey crop at the end of the nectar flow (see Chapters
12 and 13). Remember that in zones experiencing cold winters, the
colony requires at least 60 pounds of honey for use during winter. This
is the time to break out your gloves, because your normally docile
bees are at their most defensive. They don’t want to give up their honey
without a bit of a fight!
Your summer time commitment
You can’t do all that much until the end of the summer and the honey har-
vest, because your bees are doing it all! Figure on spending about eight to ten
hours with your bees during the summer months. Most of this time involves
harvesting and bottling honey (see Chapters 12 and 13 for more information
on honey harvesting).
147Chapter 8: Different Seasons, Different Activities
Winter syrup recipe
I use special syrup for feeding bees that are
going into the winter months. The thicker con-
sistency recipe makes it easier for bees to con-
vert the syrup into the capped honey they’ll
store for the winter.
/2 quarts of water on the stove. When it
comes to a rolling boil, turn off the heat and add
10 pounds of white granulated sugar. Be sure
that you turn off the stove. If you continue boil-
ing the sugar, it may caramelize, and that makes
the bees sick. Stir until the sugar dissolves com-
pletely. The syrup must cool to room tempera-
ture before you can add medication. Note that
this is a recipe for thicker syrup than that used
for feeding bees in the spring. For medicated
syrup, mix 1 teaspoon of Fumigilin-B in approxi-
mately a half cup of cool water (the medication
won’t dissolve in the syrup). Fumigilin-B pro-
tects your bees against Nosema — a common
bee illness (see Chapter 10 for more information
on Nosema and other diseases). Add the medi-
cation to the syrup and stir. You also can add
two tablespoons of Honey B Healthy. This food
supplement contains essential oils and has a
number of beneficial qualities that keep your
bees healthy. Only the first 2 gallons you feed
your bees need to be medicated. Subsequent
batches do not need to be medicated.
Falling Leaves Point to Autumn Chores
Most nectar and pollen sources become scarce as days become shorter and
weather cools in autumn. All in all, as the season slows down, so do the activ-
ities within your hive: The queen’s egg laying is dramatically reduced, drones
begin to disappear from the hive, and hive population drops significantly.
Your bees begin bringing in propolis, using it to chink up cracks in the hive
that may leak the winter’s cold wind. The colony is hunkering down for the
winter, so you must help your bees get ready.
Watch out for robbing during this time (other bees would love to steal
honey from your hives). For more about robbing and how to prevent it, see
Your autumn “to-do” list
When helping your bees prepare for the upcoming hardships of winter
months, you must
✓ Inspect your bees (look inside the hive) and make certain that the queen
is there. As mentioned in Chapter 7, the easiest way is finding eggs. One
egg per cell means the queen is present.
148 Part III: Time for a Peek
Be sure to look for eggs, not larvae. Finding eggs means that the queen
was present two days ago. Larvae, on the other hand, can be three to
eight days old. Thus, merely finding larvae is no guarantee that you have
When you wait too late during autumn, you discover that eggs and
larvae are few and far between. In that case, actually finding the queen is
the surest way to check. Be patient, and look carefully.
✓ Determine whether the bees have enough honey. Your bees need plenty
of food (capped honey) for the winter. Make certain that the upper deep
hive body is full of honey. Honey is essential for your bees’ survival,
because it’s the fuel that stokes their stoves. Without it they’re certain
In cooler, northern climates, hives need about 60 pounds or more of
honey as they head into winter. You’ll need less honey reserves (30 to
40 pounds) if your winters are short (or nonexistent).
✓ Feed and medicate your colony. They’ll accept a 2-to-1 sugar-syrup
feeding (see the “Winter syrup recipe” sidebar) until colder weather
contracts them into a tight cluster. At that point, temperatures are too
cold for them to leave the cluster (see the “Clustering in a Winter
Wonderland” section later in this chapter), so feeding them is useless.
✓ Consider treating your colony with either Terramycin® or Tylan® (both
are anitibiotics) as a prophylactic precaution against AMB and EFD
disease (see Chapter 11).
Keep feeding your bees until they stop taking the syrup, or until the
temperature drops, and they form the winter cluster. A hive-top
feeder works best. The first two gallons should be medicated with
Fumigilin-B — subsequent feedings are not medicated.
✓ Provide adequate ventilation. During winter, the temperature at the
center of the cluster is maintained at 90 to 93 degrees F. Without ade-
quate ventilation, the warm air from the cluster rises, hits the cold inner
cover, and condensation drips down onto the bees as ice-cold water.
That’s a big problem! The bees will become chilled and die. Keep your
colony dry by doing the following:
• Gluing (permanently) four postage stamp-sized pieces of wood
(you can use the thin end of a wood shingle or pieces of a Popsicle
stick) to the four corners of the inner cover’s flat underside. This
neat ventilation trick makes an air space of 1
/16 inch or less between
the top edge of the upper deep hive body and the inner cover.
• Placing the inner cover on the top deep body, flat side down. The
oval hole should be left open, and the notch in the ledge of the
inner cover (if present on your model of inner cover) should be left
open for ventilation.
When you put the outer cover on the hive, make sure that you
push it forward so the notch in the ledge of the inner cover
149Chapter 8: Different Seasons, Different Activities
remains open. Make sure that the outer cover is put on the hive
equidistant from side to side. The result is a gentle flow of air that
carries off moisture from the underside of the inner cover and thus
keeps the colony dry.
✓ Wrap the hive in black tar paper (the kind used by roofers, see Figure
8-1) if you’re in a climate where the winter gets below freezing for more
than several weeks. Make sure that you don’t cover the entrance or any
upper ventilation holes. The black tar paper absorbs heat from the
winter sun, and helps the colony better regulate temperatures during
cold spells. It also acts as a windbreak.
I put a double thickness of tar paper over the top of the hive. Placing a
rock on top ensures that cold winds don’t lift the tar paper off. I also cut
a hole in the wrapping to accommodate the ventilation hole I drilled in
the upper deep hive body (see Figure 8-1).
✓ Provide a windbreak if your winter weather is harsh. It is hoped that
you originally were able to locate your hives with a natural windbreak
of shrubbery (see Chapter 3). But if not, you can erect a temporary
windbreak of fence posts and burlap. Position it to block prevailing
✓ Add a mouse guard to the front entrance of the hive (see Chapter 12 for
more information on mouse guards).
your hive in
the sun. The
rock on top
150 Part III: Time for a Peek
Your autumn time commitment
Figure on spending three to five hours total to get your bees fed, medicated,
and bedded down for the winter months ahead.
Making your winter ventilation
preparations a breeze
Here’s an easy ventilation trick from a commer-
cial beekeeper who has successfully overwin-
tered thousands of hives in upper New York
State. During your late autumn preparation,
simply slide the upper deep back so that you
create a 1
/8-inch opening along the entire front
of the lower hive body (see figure below). Don’t
make it a larger gap, or the bees will use it as an
entrance or you might create a robbing situa-
tion. “Wait a minute!” you might say. “Doesn’t
the rain get in that little gap?” Yes it does. But
that’s no problem because you’ve already tilted
your hive slightly forward (see Chapter 3). Any
rain or snow that dribbles in simply drains right
out the front door. Try this trick along with your
other ventilation routines.
151Chapter 8: Different Seasons, Different Activities
Clustering in a Winter Wonderland
What goes on in a beehive during winter? The queen is surrounded by thou-
sand of her workers — kept warm in the midst of the winter cluster. The
winter cluster starts in the brood chamber when ambient temperatures
reach 54 to 57 degrees F. When cold weather comes, the cluster forms in the
center of the two hive bodies. It covers the top bars of the frames in the lower
chamber and extends over and beyond the bottom bars of the frames in the
food chamber (see Figure 8-2).
Although the temperature outside may be freezing, the center of the
winter cluster remains a constant 92 degrees F. The bees generate heat
by “shivering” their wing muscles.
No drones are in the hive during winter, but some worker brood begin
appearing late in the winter. Meanwhile, the bees consume about 50 to 60
pounds of honey in the hive during winter months. They eat while they are in
the cluster, moving around as a cluster whenever the temperature gets above
40 to 45 degrees F. They can move to a new area of honey only when the
weather is warm enough for them to break cluster.
Bees won’t defecate in the hive. Instead they hold off until they can leave the
hive on a nice, mild day when the temperature is 45 to 50 degrees F to take
152 Part III: Time for a Peek
Your winter “to-do” list
Winter is the slowest season of your beekeeping cycle. You’ve already
prepared your colony for the kinds of weather that your part of the world
typically experiences. So, now is the time to do the following:
✓ Monitor the hive entrance. Brush off any dead bees or snow that blocks
✓ Make sure the bees have enough food! The late winter and early spring
are when colonies can die of starvation.
Late in the winter, on a nice, mild day when there is no wind and bees
are flying, take a quick peek inside your hive. It’s best not to remove any
frames. Just have a look-see under the cover. Do you see bees? They still
should be in a cluster in the upper deep. Are they okay?
If you don’t notice any sealed honey in the top frames, you may need
to begin some emergency feeding. But remember that once you start
feeding, you cannot stop until the bees are bringing in their own pollen
✓ Clean, repair, and store your equipment for the winter.
✓ Attend bee club meetings, and read all those back issues of your favorite
✓ Order package bees and equipment (if needed) from a reputable
✓ Try a bee-related hobby. The winter is a good time for making beeswax
candles, brewing some mead, and dreaming of spring! See Chapter 14
for some ideas.
Your winter time commitment
Not much is going on with bees during winter. They are in their winter
cluster, toasty and warm inside the hive. Figure on spending two to
three hours repairing stored equipment, plus whatever time you may
spend on bee-related hobbies — making candles, mead, cosmetics,
and so on — or attending bee-club meetings. You might even decorate
your hive for the holidays (see Figure 8-3). Just don’t cover the ventilation
153Chapter 8: Different Seasons, Different Activities
Spring Is in the Air (Starting
Your Second Season)
Spring is one of the busiest times of year for bees (and beekeepers). It’s the
season when new colonies are started, and established colonies come “back
Days are getting longer and milder, and the established hive comes alive,
exploding in population. The queen steadily lays more and more eggs,
ultimately reaching her greatest rate of egg laying. The drones begin re-
appearing, and hive activity starts hopping. The nectar and pollen begin
coming into the hive thick and fast. The hive boils with activity.
Your spring “to-do” list
Beekeepers face many chores in the springtime, evaluating the status of their
colonies and helping their bees get into shape for summer months. Some of
those chores include
154 Part III: Time for a Peek
✓ Conducting an early bird inspection: Colonies should be given a quick
inspection as early in the spring as possible. The exact timing depends
upon your location (earlier in warmer zones, later in colder zones).
You don’t need to wait until bees are flying freely every day nor until
the signs of spring are visible (the appearance of buds and flowers).
Do your first spring inspection on a sunny, mild day with no wind and a
temperature close to 50 degrees F.
A rule of thumb: If the weather is cold enough that you need a heavy
overcoat, it’s too cold to inspect the bees.
✓ Determining whether your bees made it through the winter: Do you
see the cluster? The clustered bees should be fairly high in the upper
deep hive body. If you don’t see them, can you hear the cluster? Tapping
the side of the hive and putting your ear against it, listen for a hum or
If it appears that you’ve lost your bees, take the hive apart and clean out
any dead bees. Reassemble it and order a package of bees as soon as
possible. Don’t give up. We all lose our bees at one time or another.
✓ Checking to make sure that you have a queen: Look down between
some of the frames. (Do you see any brood?) That’s a good sign that the
queen is present. To get a better look, you may need to carefully remove
a frame from the center of the top deep. Can you see any brood? Do you
spot any eggs?
This inspection must be done quickly, because you don’t want to leave
the frame open to chilly air. If you don’t see any brood or eggs, your hive
may be without a queen, and you should order a new queen as soon as
possible, assuming, that is, the hive population is sufficient to incubate
brood once the new queen arrives. What’s sufficient? The cluster of bees
needs to be at least the size of a large grapefruit (hopefully larger). If you
have fewer bees than that, you should plan to order a new package of
bees (with queen).
✓ Checking to ensure the bees still have food: Looking down between the
frames, see if you spot any honey. Honey is capped with white cappings
(tan cappings are the brood). If you see honey, that’s great. If not, you
must begin emergency feeding your bees (see the following bulleted
✓ Medicating and feeding the colony: A few weeks before the first blos-
soms appear, you need to begin medicating and feeding your bees
(regardless of whether they still have honey).
Feed the colony sugar syrup (see recipe in Chapter 5). This feeding
stimulates the queen and encourages her to start laying eggs at a brisk
rate. It also stimulates the worker bees’ wax glands. The two gallons
need to be medicated with Fumigilin-B — subsequent gallons aren’t
medicated. See the section, “Administering spring medication,” later in
this chapter. Continue feeding until you notice that the bees are bringing
in their own food. You’ll know when you see pollen on their legs.
155Chapter 8: Different Seasons, Different Activities
Feed the colony pollen substitute, which helps strengthen your hive and
stimulates egg laying in the queen. Pollen substitute is available in a
powdered mix from your bee supplier. This feeding can cease when you
see bees bringing in their own pollen.
✓ Reversing your hive bodies (see “Reversing hive bodies” section later
in this chapter).
✓ Anticipating colony growth: Don’t wait until your hive is “boiling”
with bees. Later in the spring, before the colony becomes too crowded,
create more room for the bees by adding a queen excluder and honey
supers. Be sure that you remove the feeder and discontinue all medica-
tion at this time.
✓ Watching out for indications of swarming: Inspect the hive periodically
and look for swarm cells (see Chapter 7).
Your springtime commitment
Spring is just about the busiest time for the beekeeper. You can anticipate
spending eight to 12 hours tending to your bees.
Administering spring medication
Although you probably don’t need to medicate your bees during their first
season (reputable bee suppliers should have already medicated the bees),
you’ll definitely want to consider medication in the spring of your colony’s
second season. Remember to stop all medication treatments five to six weeks
before adding honey supers to the colony to prevent contamination of the
honey that you want to harvest.
The list that follows contains a springtime medication regime that helps
prevent diseases, control mites, and improve your bees’ overall health (see
Chapters 10, 11, and 12 for more information):
✓ To prevent Nosema: In a small jar half filled with lukewarm water, add
1 teaspoon of Fumigilin-B. Shake the jar until dissolved. Stir the jar’s
contents into the cooled sugar syrup solution you use to feed your bees
(see Chapter 5). Feed at the top of the hive using a hive-top feeder.
Medicate the first two gallons of syrup, but not subsequent gallons.
✓ To prevent foulbrood: Terramycin and TYLAN are antibiotics that come
as a powder. They are effective against American and European foul-
brood. To administer, carefully follow the directions on the package.
156 Part III: Time for a Peek
✓ For general health: Honey B Healthy contains essential oils (lemongrass
and spearmint). The beneficial properties of using essential oils in hives
are well documented. It’s a “more natural” solution to honey bee health
issues. Use it as a feeding stimulant by adding a teaspoon of the concen-
trate to your sugar syrup solution during your spring feedings. It helps
keep bees healthy even in the presence of mites.
✓ For varroa mite control: Here there are a number of choices of product
and treatment (see Chapter 11 for more information on varroa mite con-
trol). It is very important that you follow package directions precisely.
Never ever leave mite control products in the hive over the winter.
Doing so constantly exposes the mites to the active chemical ingredient,
which becomes weaker and weaker over time. These sublethal doses
increase the chance for mites to build up a resistance to the products.
This tolerance is then passed on to future generations of mites, and
subsequent treatments become useless.
✓ For tracheal mite control: When the weather starts getting warmer,
place a prepared bag containing 1.8 ounces of menthol crystals on the
top bars toward the rear of the hive (see Chapter 11 for more informa-
tion). Set them on a small piece of aluminum foil to prevent the bees
from chewing holes in the bag and carrying it away. Leave the bag in
the hive for 14 consecutive days when the outdoor temperature ranges
between 60 and 80 degrees F.
Adding a grease patty to the top bars of the brood chamber is another
treatment for tracheal mites. Making grease patties is easy; see Chapter
11 for the recipe that I use. Use one patty per hive, replacing them as the
bees consume them. Use these patties throughout the year (even when
honey supers are on the hive). Unused patties can be stored in the
freezer until you’re ready to use them.
There are non-chemical options for controlling mite populations. See Chapter
12 for examples of “natural” pest management.
Reversing hive bodies
Bees normally move upward in the hive during the winter. In early spring, the
upper deep is full of bees, new brood, and food. But the lower deep hive body
is mostly empty. You can help matters by reversing the top and bottom deep
hive bodies (see Figure 8-4). Doing so also gives you an opportunity to clean
the bottom board. Follow these steps:
157Chapter 8: Different Seasons, Different Activities
1. When a mild day comes along (50 degrees F) with little or no wind
and bright clear sunlight, open your hive using your smoker in the
2. Place the upturned outer cover on the ground and then remove the
upper deep hive body.
3. Keep the inner cover on the deep and close the oval hole in the
middle of the inner cover with a piece of wood shingle or tape.
4. Place the deep across the edges of the outer cover, so there will be
only four points of contact (you’ll squeeze fewer bees that way).
5. Now you can see down into the lower deep that still rests on the
It probably is empty, but even if some inhabitants are found, lift the
lower deep off the bottom board and place it crossways on the inner
cover that is covering the deep you previously removed.
6. Scrape and clean the bottom board.
Note: This is good opportunity to add a slatted rack (see Chapter 4),
because you won’t get another chance until autumn. Slatted racks help
with the hive’s ventilation and can promote superior brood patterns.
They also encourage the queen to lay eggs all the way to the front of the
hive, because of improved ventilation and draft control.
7. Now stand the deep body — which had been the relatively empty
bottom one — on one end, placing it on the ground.
Then place the full hive body onto the clean bottom board (or on the
slatted rack, if you added one).
8. Smoke the bees and remove the inner cover so that you can place the
empty deep on top.
Replace the inner and outer covers.
Starting and stopping sugar syrup feedings
Continue feeding the bees sugar syrup in
the spring until they stop taking the syrup —
or until it is evident that the bees are bringing
in nectar. The exception is for a newly estab-
lished colony — in which case you should
continue feeding syrup until all of the frames of
foundation are drawn into comb, or until the
bees stop feeding on the syrup — whichever
comes first. In the autumn, continue feeding
until they stop taking the syrup, or the daytime
temperature drops to less than 40˚ F (4˚ C) —
whichever comes first.
158 Part III: Time for a Peek
This reversing procedure enables the bees to better distribute brood, honey,
pollen, fresh nectar, and water. Reversing gives them more room to move
upward, which is the direction that they always want to move.
Repeat this reversal in about three to four weeks, restoring the hive to its
original configuration. At that time you can put on one or more honey
supers — assuming the bees are now bringing in their own food, and you
have ceased feeding and medicating.
ies in the
The Beekeeper’s Calendar
This is not the bee-all and end-all of a “to-do” list! It’s simply a guideline to
help you determine the kind of chores you should consider as the season
progresses. Clearly a beekeeper’s calendar of activities will be different in
Maine than in Southern California (see Figure 8-5). And the corresponding
dates and activities can vary depending upon actual weather conditions,
elevation, and so on. Consider this tool a “sanity check” as you and your bees
progress through the seasons.
Zone A: Short summers and long, cold winters. Average annual temperature
is between 35˚F and 45˚F. Minimum temperatures are between 0˚F and 15˚F.
Zone B: Summers are hot, and winters can be quite cold and extended.
Average annual temperature is between 45˚F and 55˚F. Minimum tempera-
tures are between 15˚F and 20˚F.
159Chapter 8: Different Seasons, Different Activities
Zone C: Summers are long and hot, and the winters are mild and short.
Average annual temperature is between 55˚F and 65˚F. Minimum tempera-
tures are between 30˚F and 35˚F.
Zone D: Warm to hot all year round. Average annual temperature is between
65˚F and 80˚F. Minimum temperatures are between 30˚Fand 40˚F.
How to Use this Tool
1. Use Figure 8-5 to determine your “Beekeeping Zone”. If you live out-
side the United States, find the zone on the map with a temperature
range that most closely corresponds to your part of the world.
2. Use Table 8-1 to locate the month of year you are currently in.
3. Look down the “month” column and find your zone letter (A, B, C or
D). Wherever your zone letter appears, look at the corresponding activ-
ity in the far-left column. This is an activity you should consider doing
during this month. All of these activities are covered in more detail
within the various chapters of the book.
160 Part III: Time for a Peek
161Chapter 8: Different Seasons, Different Activities
162 Part III: Time for a Peek
In this part . . .
Sometimes things go wrong. But don’t worry. In these
chapters, I tell you what to expect and what to do
when things don’t go as planned. Find out how to keep
your bees from swarming, getting sick, or undergoing
stress. If you encounter a problem, refer to this section for
In This Chapter
▶ Preventing and controlling swarming
▶ Capturing a swarm
▶ Replacing your queen
▶ Thwarting robbing frenzies
▶ Ridding your hive of laying workers
▶ Preventing pesticide poisoning
▶ Understanding the “killer bee” phenomenon
Despite the best intentions and the most careful planning, things occa-
sionally go wrong. It happens. The bees swarm. The queen is nowhere
to be found. The whole colony dies or flies away. What happened? Did you do
something wrong? What could you have done differently?
I’ve made just about every mistake in the book at one time or another. But
that’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s part of the process. The key lesson I’ve
learned has been to anticipate. Discipline yourself to plan ahead and look
out for potential problems before they happen. I can assure you that you can
head off 80 to 90 percent of potential problems at the pass if you anticipate
trouble and take steps to avoid it.
In this chapter, I include a few of the more common non-medical prob-
lems to anticipate and try to avoid. These problems include swarming and
absconding, losing your queen, and losing your colony because of poor
ventilation robbers (robber bees, that is!), and pesticides. This chapter also
tells you how to deal with potential community-mindset problems of having
Africanized bees in your geographical area.
166 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
Running Away (To Join the Circus?)
Sometimes bees disappear. They simply get up and go. Poof! In one common
scenario, called swarming, about 50 percent of the colony packs up with the
queen and takes flight. In the other scenario, called absconding, 100 percent
of the colony hits the road, leaving not a soul behind. Neither scenario is
something you want to happen.
A swarm of honey bees is a familiar sight in the spring and early summer. It’s
one of the most fascinating phenomena in nature and an instinctive way that
honey bees manage the colony’s growth and survival. To witness a swarm
pouring out of a hive is simply thrilling — though the pleasure may be less so
if the swarm of bees is yours!
Immediately before swarming, the bees that intend to leave the colony gorge
themselves with honey (like packing a box lunch before a long trip). Then, all
at once, like someone flipped a switch, tens of thousands of bees exit the hive
and blacken the sky with their numbers. Half or more of the colony leaves the
hive to look for a new home. But first, within a few minutes of departing from
the hive, the bees settle down on a nearby surface.
There’s no telling where a swarm might land. It could land on any convenient
resting place: a bush, a tree branch (see Figure 9-1), a lamppost, or perhaps a
piece of patio furniture (see Figure 9-2). In any case, the swarming bees won’t
stay there long. As soon as scout bees find a more suitable and protected
home, the swarm will be up, up, and away.
In its temporary resting place, the swarm is a bundle of bees clustered
together for protection and warmth. In the center of it all is their queen.
Depending on the size of the hive that swarmed, the cluster may be as small
as a grapefruit or as large as a watermelon. The bees will remain in this
manner for a few hours or even a few days while scout bees look for a new
home. When they return with news of a suitable spot, off they all go to take
up residence in a hollow tree, within the walls of an old barn, or in some
other cozy cavity.
Not sure if your hive has swarmed? A regular inspection during the month of
May and June will reveal the situation. Know the key indicators: no eggs, fewer
bees, and all the cells have only older larvae and/or capped brood. And there
are always queen cells present along the lower third of the frames.
167Chapter 9: Anticipating and Preventing Potential Problems
resting in a
168 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
Understanding why you want to prevent swarming
Swarms are a dramatic sight, and a completely natural occurrence for the
bees, but swarms are not good news for you. A colony that swarms is far less
likely to collect a surplus of honey. That means no honey harvest for you that
year. A colony that loses 50 percent of its population and 50 percent of its
honey also will have a difficult time regaining its population and productivity.
It also means the bees may have a tougher time making it through the cold
winter months (assuming you have such weather).
It’s unhappy enough news when your bees swarm, but the later in the season
they do it, the worse the news is for you. If the bees choose to swarm later,
and you live in an area that experiences cold winter months, there simply
isn’t enough time for the colony to recover during that season.
If you’re a first-year beekeeper, rest assured that a new colony is unlikely
to swarm during its first season. But older and more crowded colonies are
likely candidates for swarming behavior. Remember, swarming is a natural
and normal instinct for bees. At one point or another, your bees will want to
swarm. It’s only natural. It’s nature’s way of reproduction. But discouraging
them from doing so is a skill every beekeeper should have as a swarm means
less bees to make honey for you.
Keeping the girls from leaving home
There are two primary reasons bees swarm: congestion and poor ventilation.
Occasionally, a poorly performing queen can contribute to the swarming
impulse. But all these conditions can be anticipated and avoided. Here are
some things you can do:
✓ Avoid congestion. Because overcrowding is a primary reason a colony
will swarm, make sure to anticipate your bees’ needs and provide them
with more room before they need it. If you wait until it’s obvious that the
colony is crowded, you’re too late! The colony is likely to swarm, and
What’s the buzz?
You may have heard how a friend of a friend
knew a couple who kept hearing a mysterious
humming noise in their bedroom at night. Upon
taking the wall apart, they discovered the whole
space within the wall had been turned into a
hive. No, this is not an urban legend! I get calls
like this every year — at some point a colony of
bees has swarmed and set up housekeeping in
a cozy niche of a human habitation. And now
there’s honey dripping through the ceiling and
so forth. This is one whacking big job to deal
with and very expensive. The walls have to be
torn apart to get at such hives for removal.
169Chapter 9: Anticipating and Preventing Potential Problems
there is little you can to prevent them from swarming once they’ve set
their minds to it. However, you can do the following to prevent conges-
tion from happening in the first place:
• Reverse your hive bodies in the early spring to better distribute
the fast-growing population (see Chapter 8).
• Add a queen excluder and honey supers before the first nectar flow
in the early spring (stop feeding and medicating before you add
honey supers; see Chapter 8).
✓ Provide adequate ventilation. To ensure proper ventilation, you can do
a number of things:
• If your inner cover has a notched ventilation hole in the front of
the inner cover, make sure it is open. Here’s how. Stand at the rear
of the hive and push the outer cover forward. Doing so prevents
the overhang of the outer cover from blocking the notched hole on
the inner cover.
• Glue a short length of a wooden Popsicle stick to each of the four
corners of the inner cover. By doing so, you create a thin gap
between the inner cover and the hive and improve air flow into
and out of the hive. (Alternatively, you can place a short screw
with a fat, domed head in each corner. The fat head of the screw
creates the gap you want.)
• Drill wine cork–sized holes in your upper deep (below the hand
hold) and in all your honey supers, as shown in Figure 9-3. Doing so
not only provides extra ventilation but also provides the bees with
additional entrances. This ventilation can even be helpful in the
cold winter months. You can control airflow and access by block-
ing and opening these holes as needed with corks or strips of duct
tape. Be sure to close off these entrances for a new colony whose
population is still too small to defend all these extra openings.
to drill wine
holes in the
170 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
✓ Make the bees comfortable in hot weather by doing the following:
• Supply a nearby water source. The bees will use this water to regu-
late the hive’s temperature. See Chapter 3 for suggestions regard-
ing water sources.
• Shield the hive from a full day of blazing sun. Particularly if you live
in a blazing hot area. Locating the hive in dappled sunlight is the
best solution (see Chapter 3).
✓ Remove queen swarm cells — all of them. The earliest evidence that
your bees are thinking about swarming is that they start to make swarm
cells (see Chapter 7). During the spring and early summer, inspect your
hive every week or ten days to look for swarm cells. They can be found
along the bottom of the frames. If you see any, remove them by cutting
them out with the sharp end of your hive tool. The colony won’t swarm
if it doesn’t have a new queen in the making.
This technique only works if you remove 100 percent of the swarm cells.
If just one cell remains behind, the colony has the green light to swarm.
✓ Replace your queen every other autumn. Colonies with young queens
are far less likely to swarm.
If the hive is simply boiling over with bees and you failed to take any of the
above precautions, there is a last-resort emergency measure. You can remove
all the frames of capped brood from the hive (with bees still on the frames)
and replace them with frames of foundation. A colony will not swarm if it does
not have capped brood equal to the number of bees swarming.
Make sure that the queen is not on any of these frames. You can use these
frames of bees and brood to start a new hive! If there are eggs on those
frames, the “new” hive will raise a new queen. Or you can play it safe and
order a new queen from your bee supplier.
The 7/10 rule
If you’re a first-year beekeeper, here’s a way to
remember when it’s time to give a new colony
more room (and do so before it’s too late):
✓ When 7 of the 10 frames in the lower deep
are drawn into comb, add a second deep
hive body with frames and foundation.
✓ When 7 of the 10 frames in the upper deep
are drawn into comb, add a queen excluder
and a honey super.
✓ When 7 of the 10 frames in the honey super
are drawn into comb, add an additional
Continue providing more room in this manner,
adding more space when the bees have drawn
out 70 percent of the foundation.
171Chapter 9: Anticipating and Preventing Potential Problems
They swarmed anyway. Now what?
Okay, the bees swarmed anyway. You’re not alone; it happens. The good
news is that you may be able to capture your swarm and start another
colony. (See the following section titled “Capturing a swarm.”) You wanted a
new hive of bees anyway, didn’t you?
In any event, what should you do with the half of the colony that remains?
Follow these steps:
1. A week after your colony swarms, inspect the hive to determine
whether you have a new queen.
You might spot a queen cell or two along the lower third of the frames
(see Chapter 7 for tips on finding queen cells). Good! That’s an encour-
aging sign. It means a new queen is “in the oven.” But you must ulti-
mately determine if the colony’s new queen is laying eggs. One week
after a swarm you’re unlikely to see any eggs — it’s too soon for the new
queen to get to work. But do have a look and see if you can find her maj-
esty. If you can, great! Close up the hive and wait another week. If you
don’t see the queen, wait a couple more days and have another look.
After the swarm, it will take six to eight days for the queen cell to open
and a new virgin queen to emerge. Then allow three to four more days
for her to mate with the drones. After another three to four days, she
will start laying eggs. The total elapsed time since the swarm is about
Consider marking your new queen once you’ve found her. It’s common
for a beekeeper to place a daub of color on the queen’s thorax (back).
Marking queens makes them easier to find during future inspections,
and verifies that the queen you see is the same one you saw during pre-
vious inspections. For information on how to do this, see Chapter 13.
2. Two weeks after the swarm, open the hive again and look for eggs.
Do you see eggs? If so, you have a queen, and your colony is off and
running. Close things up and celebrate with a glass of mead. If there’s
still no sign of a queen or her eggs, order a new queen from your bee
supplier. Hive the replacement queen as soon as she arrives (see
“Introducing a new queen to the hive” later in this chapter).
If you don’t follow up after a swarm, the colony can easily become queenless
without you ever being aware of it. No queen, no brood. No brood, no good.
1. Have at-the-ready a new hive body with nine frames and foundation,
bottom board, hive-top feeder and outer cover (I’ll refer to this as the
172 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
2. Turn your attention to the suspect hive (I’ll refer to this as the “old” hive).
Smoke and inspect, looking for the frame with the queen on it. When you
find that regal frame, gently put it aside. Be careful! The queen is on that
frame! You can make use of a empty nuc box or another empty hive body
to hold this frame out of harm’s way. In any event, find a way to keep the
queen and frame safe and sound while you tend to other things.
3. Move the old hive at least 10 feet away from its original location (here’s
where a wheelbarrow or hive lifter comes in handy).
4. Now place the new hive setup where the old hive was previously located.
5. Place a bed sheet in front of the new hive, from the ground to the
entrance board. You are creating a ramp for the bees that you are about
to unceremoniously dump in front of this hive.
6. Back to the old hive. One by one, take each frame out of the old hive,
and shake 80 to 90 percent of the bees off the frames (use a bee brush if
you prefer) and onto the bed sheet ramp in front of the new hive. They
will march their way right into the new hive (see the following figure).
Make sure you don’t shake all of the bees off the frames. About 10 to 20
percent of the bees should remain on the old frames.
7. Put these old frames (with some bees still clinging to them) back into
the old hive. At this point, the old hive has nine of its original frames
containing brood, larvae, eggs, and about 10 to 20 percent of the bees.
Remember that these frames must contain at least one queen cell. Add a
new frame and foundation to take up the empty (tenth) slot.
8. Here’s where you take the frame with the old queen and gently brush
her onto the entrance of the new hive. Bee careful!
9. Take the frame that the queen was on and slip it into the tenth slot of
the new hive. Your new hive now contains this “old” frame, nine new
frames with foundation, and about 80 to 90 percent of the bees. Plus the
10. Feed syrup to both hives using hive-top feeders or some other suitable
Using an artificial swarm
to prevent a natural swarm
There’s another way to prevent a crowded
hive from swarming: by creating an “artificial
swarm” (sometimes called a “shook swarm”).
This little trick is a lot of work, but it’s an effec-
tive way to get the urge to swarm out of your
colony’s system. The best time to do a “shook
swarm” is before 10 a.m. or after 2 p.m. Note
that for this method to work, your “suspect”
hive must have at least one queen cell on the
173Chapter 9: Anticipating and Preventing Potential Problems
It’s a good practice to close up the new hive for a day or two by pushing
screening along the entrance way. Confining the bees in this manner gets
them working on building new comb and helps them get over the swarming
Capturing a swarm
If your bees do swarm and you can see where they landed (and you can
reach it safely), you can capture them and start a new hive. You may even be
lucky enough to get a call from a friend or neighbor who has spotted a wild
swarm in his yard (beekeepers are often called to come capture swarms).
Either way, capturing a swarm is a thrilling experience.
Despite their rather awesome appearance, swarms are not that dangerous.
That’s because honey bees are defensive only in the vicinity of their nest.
They need this defensive behavior to protect their brood and food supply.
But a swarm of honey bees has neither young nor food and is usually very
gentle. That’s good news because it makes your job easy if you want to cap-
ture a swarm of bees.
If you live in an area known to have Africanized Honey Bees (discussed later in
this chapter), you must be very cautious — a swarm might be this undesirable
strain. There’s no way of telling just by looking at them. If you’re in doubt,
don’t attempt to capture a swarm — unless you are certain this swarm origi-
nated from your hive.
Be prepared for a crowd of awestruck onlookers. I always draw a crowd when
I capture a swarm. Everyone in your audience will be stunned as you walk
up to this mass of 20,000 stingers wearing only a veil for protection. “Look”
they’ll gasp, “that beekeeper is in short sleeves and is not wearing any gloves!
Are they crazy?” Only you will know the secret: The bees are at their gentlest
when they’re in a swarming cluster. You have nothing to fear. But your neo-
phyte audience will think that your bravery is supreme. To them, you are a
bee charmer — or the bravest (or nuttiest) person alive!
The easiest swarms to capture are those that are accommodating enough
to collect on a bush or a low tree branch — one that you can reach without
climbing a ladder. Obviously, if the branch is high up in a tree, you should
not attempt your first capture! Gain experience by first capturing swarms
that are easy reaches. Then you can graduate to the school of acrobatic
Say your swarm is located on an accessible branch. Lucky you! Follow these
steps to capture it:
1. Place a suitable container on the ground below the swarm.
You can use a large cardboard box (my favorite), an empty beehive, or
a nuc box (see Chapter 5). This container will be the swarm’s temporary
accommodation while you transport the bees to their new, permanent
174 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
home. The container you use should be large enough to accommodate
the entire cluster of bees and a hunk of the branch they are currently
2. Get the bees off the branch.
One approach is to give the branch holding the bees a sudden authorita-
tive jolt. Doing so will dislodge the swarm, and it will (hopefully) fall into
the container that you have placed directly under it. If this approach
works, great. But it can be tricky. The swarm may miss its mark, and you
may wind up with bees all over the place. In addition, this violent dis-
lodging tests the gentle demeanor I promised!
I prefer a more precise approach that enables you to gently place (not
drop) the bees into their “swarm box.” This approach works if the
swarm is on a branch that you can easily sever from the rest of the foli-
age. You’ll need a pair of pruning shears — a size appropriate for the job
at hand. Follow these steps:
1. Study the swarm.
Notice how the bees are clustered on the branches. Can you spot
the main branch that’s holding the swarm? Are several branches
holding it? Try to identify the branch (or branches) that, if sev-
ered, will allow you to gingerly walk the branch with swarm
attached over to the box. In this manner, you can place the swarm
in the box, not dump it.
2. Snip away at the lesser branches while firmly holding the branch
containing the mother lode with your other hand.
Work with the precision of a surgeon: You don’t want to jolt the
swarm off the branch prematurely. When you’re absolutely sure
that you understand which branch is holding the bees, make the
decisive cut. Anticipate that the swarm will be heavier than you
imagined, and be sure that you have a firm grip on the branch
before you make the cut. Avoid sudden jolts or drops that would
knock the bees off the branch.
3. Carefully walk the swarm (branch and all) to the empty card-
board box and place the whole deal in the box. The bees will not
leave the branch as you walk, but you should walk as gingerly as
if you were walking on ice.
3. Close up the box, tape it shut, and you’re done. Whew!
Get it home right away because heat will build up quickly in the
I have modified a cardboard box for swarm captures. One side contains a
large “window” cutout that I have fitted with mosquito screen. This
window gives the captured swarm ample ventilation. Alternatively, punch
some holes in the box with an awl or an ice pick to provide ventilation.
175Chapter 9: Anticipating and Preventing Potential Problems
Hiving your swarm
You can introduce your swarm into a new hive in the following manner:
1. Decide where you want to locate your new colony.
Keep in mind all the factors you need to consider when making this deci-
sion (see Chapter 3).
2. Set up a new hive in this location.
You’ll need a bottom board, a deep hive body, ten frames and founda-
tion, an inner cover, an outer cover and a hive-top feeder (or other
means for feeding the bees syrup). Keep the entrance wide open (no
3. Place a bed sheet in front of the new hive, from the ground to the hive
This ramp will help the bees find the entrance to their new home. In lieu
of a bed sheet, you can use a wooden plank or any configuration that
creates a gang plank for the bees.
4. Take the box containing the swarm and shake/pour the bees onto the
bed sheet, as close to the entrance as possible.
Some of the bees will immediately begin fanning an orientation scent
at the entrance, and the rest will scramble right into the hive. What a
remarkable sight this is — thousands of bees marching into their new
home. Congratulations! You have a new colony of bees!
The swarm of bees (now in their new home) will draw comb quickly because
they arrive loaded with honey. Feed them syrup using the hive-top feeder to
stimulate wax production. Feeding may not be necessary if the nectar flows
In a week, check the hive and see how the bees are doing. See any eggs? If you
do, you know the queen is already at work. How many frames of foundation
have been drawn into comb? The more the merrier! Is it time to add a second
deep (see the “The 7/10 rule” sidebar earlier in this chapter)?
Finding a swarm and starting a new colony are typically more desireable ear-
lier in the season than later. That’s because late-swarms don’t have much time
to grow and prosper before the winter sets in. There’s an old poem of
unknown origin that is well-known to beekeepers:
A swarm in May — is worth a load of hay.
A swarm in June — is worth a silver spoon.
A swarm in July — isn’t worth a fly.
176 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
Absconding is a cruel blow when it happens. One day, you go to the hive and
find that no one’s at home. Every last bee (or nearly every bee) has packed
up and left town. What a horror! Here are some of the typical causes of
✓ Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD): This relatively new phenomenon has
devastated honey bee colonies around the world. One day the bees are
gone with no evidence as to why. The causes are unknown, but the prob-
lem is being vigorously studied. For more information on what you can
do to help prevent CCD, see Chapter 10.
✓ Lack of food: Make sure that your hive has an ample supply of honey.
Feed your bees sugar syrup when their stores are dangerously low and
during serious dearths of nectar.
✓ Loss of queen: This situation eventually results in a hive with no brood.
Always look for evidence of a queen when you inspect your bees. Look
✓ Uncomfortable living conditions: Make sure that the hive is situated
where it doesn’t get too hot or too wet. Overheated or overly wet hives
make life unbearable for the colony. Provide ample ventilation and tip
the hive forward for good drainage.
✓ Itty-bitty (or not so itty-bitty) pests: Some hives (particularly weak ones)
can become overrun with other insects, such as ants, or hive beetles.
Even persistent raids from wildlife (skunks, raccoons, and bears, for
example) can make life miserable for the bees. See Chapter 12 for tips on
dealing with these annoyances.
✓ Mites and disease: Colonies that are infested with mites or have suc-
cumbed to disease may give up and leave town. Routinely medicate your
bees to prevent such problems (see Chapters 11 and 12).
Where Did the Queen Go?
It’s every beekeeper’s nightmare: The queen is dead, or gone, or lost.
Whatever the reason, if the colony doesn’t have a queen, it’s doomed. That’s
why you must confirm that the queen is alive and well at every inspection. If
you come to the dismal conclusion that your colony is queenless, you can do
two things: Let the colony raise its own queen or introduce a new queen into
177Chapter 9: Anticipating and Preventing Potential Problems
If you are a new beekeeper, don’t panic if you can’t find your queen. I get more
calls about “lost queens” than any other topic. But most of the time the queen
is in the hive. It’s just that the new beekeeper has not yet become adept at
spotting her. If you can’t find the queen (she’s easy to miss), look for eggs or
very young larvae. That’s a sure indication she was there just days ago.
Letting nature take its course
To let the colony create a new queen, it must have occupied queen cells or
cells with eggs. If eggs are available, the worker bees will take some of them
and start the remarkable process of raising a new queen. When the new
virgin queen hatches, she will take her nuptial flight, mate with drones, and
return to the hive to begin laying eggs. If no eggs are available for the colony
to raise a new queen, you must take matters into your own hands and order a
new queen from your beekeeping supplier (see next section). Or you can find
out how to raise your own queen (see Chapter 13).
The colony must have eggs to create its own queen. Older larvae or capped
brood are at too late a developmental stage to be transformed into new
Replacing your queen naturally is certainly interesting, but consider the logis-
tics. The entire process (from egg to laying queen) can take a month. That’s a
precious amount of time during honey collection season. Particularly if you
live in a climate with a short summer season. In the interest of productivity, it
may be better to take matters into your own hands and order a replacement
queen. At least in your first year.
Ordering a replacement queen
A faster solution than the au natural method is to order a replacement queen
from your bee supplier. Within a few days, a vigorous queen will arrive at
your doorstep. She’s already mated and ready to start producing brood.
The advantages of ordering a queen are clear:
✓ It provides a fast solution to the problem of having a queenless colony.
✓ The queen is certain to be fertile.
✓ It guarantees the pedigree of your stock. (Queens left to mate in the
wild can produce bees with undesirable characteristics, such as a bad
178 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
Introducing a new queen to the hive
After your queen arrives by mail, you must introduce her into the colony.
Doing so can be a little tricky. You can’t just pop her in: She’s a stranger to
the colony, and the bees are sure to kill her. You have to introduce her slowly.
The colony needs time to accept her and become accustomed to her scent.
Old-time beekeepers swear by all kinds of methods — and some are downright
weird. (I don’t want you to try them so I’m not going to mention them here!) I
suggest that you use one of the following tried-and-true approaches:
1. Remove one of the frames from the brood box.
Pick a frame with little or no brood on it, as whatever brood is on the
frame will be lost — you won’t use this frame again for a week.
2. Shake all the bees off the frame and put it aside for the next week.
3. With the one frame removed, create a space in the center of the brood
box. Use this space to hang the queen cage in the same way you hung
it when you first installed your package bees (see Chapter 5 and
Make sure to remove the cork from the queen cage to expose the candy
plug. Also, when you hang the cage, make sure that the candy end is
facing up. That way, any attendant bees that die in the cage will not
block the hole and prevent the queen from getting out. Leave the bees
alone for one week, and then inspect the hive to determine that the
queen has been released and that she is laying eggs.
If the weather is mild (over 60 degrees F at night), you can introduce the
queen cage on the bottom board (see Figure 9-5). Remove the cork to expose
the candy plug. Slide the cage screen side up along the bottom board and
179Chapter 9: Anticipating and Preventing Potential Problems
situate it toward the rear of the hive. Use your hive tool to nudge it as far to
the rear of the hive as possible. Leave the bees alone for one week, and then
inspect the hive to determine that the queen has been released and that she
Use a flashlight to peer into the back of the hive to see if the hole in the cage is
clear. If yes, the queen has likely been released.
Avoiding Chilled Brood
Honey bees keep their hive clean and sterile. If a bee dies, the others remove
it immediately. If a larva or pupa dies, out it goes. During the early spring, the
weather can be unstable in some regions of the country. A cold weather snap
can chill and kill some of the developing brood. When this happens, the bees
dutifully remove the little corpses and drag them out of the hive. Sometimes
the landing board at the entrance is as far as they can carry them. You may
spot several dead brood at the entrance or on the ground in front of the hive.
Don’t be alarmed — the bees are doing their job. A few casualties during the
early spring are normal.
Note: Chilled brood looks similar to, but is different from, the disease chalk-
brood. You can find information about chalkbrood in Chapter 11.
Sometimes beekeepers unwittingly contribute to the problem of chilled
brood. Remember, chilled brood is killed brood. You can do a few things to
avoid endangering your bees:
✓ When the temperature drops below 50 degrees F, keep your inspections
very, very brief. A lot of heat escapes every time you open the hive, and
brood can become chilled and die.
180 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
✓ Provide adequate ventilation to avoid condensation. The resulting icy
water dripping on the bees can chill the brood.
✓ Inspect your bees only on days when there is little or no wind (espe-
cially during cool weather). Harsh winds will chill (and kill) brood.
Dealing with the Dreaded
Robbing is a situation in which a hive is attacked by invaders from other
hives. The situation is serious for a number of reasons:
✓ A hive defending itself against robbing will fight to the death. This battle
can result in the loss of many little lives and even destroy an entire
✓ If the hive is unable to defend itself in a robbing situation, the invading
army can strip the colony of all its food. Disaster!
✓ Being robbed changes the disposition of a hive. The bees can become
nasty, aggressive, and difficult to deal with. Ouch!
Many new beekeepers mistake a robbing situation as being the opposite of a
problem. Look at all that activity around the hive! Business must be booming!
It’s a natural mistake. The hive’s entrance is furious with activity. Bees are
everywhere. Thousands of them are darting in, out, and all around the hive.
But look more closely. . . .
Knowing the difference between normal
and abnormal (robbing) behavior
A busy hive during the nectar flow may have a lot of activity at the entrance,
but the normal behavior of foraging bees looks different than a robbing situ-
ation. Foraging bees go to and fro with a purpose. They shoot straight out of
the hive and are quickly up and away. Returning foragers are weighted down
with nectar and pollen and land solidly when returning to their hive. Some
even undershoot the entrance and crash-land just short of the bottom board.
Other times, normal activity at the hive’s entrance can look unusually busy.
This is when young worker bees take their orientation flights. Facing the hive,
they hover up, down, and back and forth. They’re orienting themselves to
the location of their hive. You may see hundreds of these young bees floating
around the front of the hive, but there’s nothing aggressive or frantic about
their exploratory behavior.
181Chapter 9: Anticipating and Preventing Potential Problems
In contrast to these normal busy situations, robbing takes on an aggressive
and sinister look. Try to recognize the warning signs:
✓ Robbing bees approach the hive without being weighted down with
nectar. They may not shoot right into the entrance. Instead, they fly
from side to side, waiting for an opportune moment to sneak past the
✓ If you look closely, you may see bees fighting at the entrance or on the
ground in front of the hive. They are embraced in mortal combat. These
are the guard bees defending their colony to the death. This behavior is
a sure indication of robbing.
✓ Unlike foraging bees that leave the hive empty-handed, robbing bees
leave the hive heavily laden with honey, which makes flying difficult.
Robbing bees tend to climb up the front of the hive before taking off.
Once they’re airborne, there’s a characteristic dip in their flight path.
Putting a stop to a robbing attack
If you think that you have a robbing situation underway, don’t waste time.
Use one or more of the following suggestions to halt robbing and prevent
✓ Reduce the size of the entrance to the width of a single bee. Use
your entrance reducer or clumps of grass stuffed along the entrance.
Minimizing the entrance will make it far easier for your bees to defend
the colony. But be careful. If the temperature has turned hot, narrowing
the entrance impairs ventilation.
✓ Soak a bed sheet in water and cover the hive that’s under attack. The
sheet (heavy with water) drapes to the ground and prevents robbing
bees from getting to the entrance. The bees in the hive seem to be able
to find their way in and out. During hot, dry weather, rewet the sheet as
needed. Be sure to remove the sheet after one or two days. By that time
the robbing behavior should have stopped.
Preventing robbing in the first place
The best of all worlds is to prevent robbing from happening at all. Here’s
what you can do:
✓ Never leave honey out in the open where the bees can find it — particularly
near the hive and during a dearth in the nectar flow. Easy pickings can set
off a robbing situation.
182 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
✓ When harvesting honey, keep your supers covered after you remove
them from the colony.
✓ Be very careful when handling sugar syrup. Try not to spill a single
drop when feeding your bees. The slightest amount anywhere but in the
feeder can trigger disaster.
✓ Until your hive is strong enough to defend itself, use the entrance
reducer to restrict the size of the opening the bees must protect. Also,
be sure to close off the hole in the inner cover.
✓ Never feed your bees in the wide open (such as filling a dish with syrup
or honey and putting it near the entrance of the hive).
✓ Avoid using a Boardman entrance feeder (see Figure 9-6). Being so close
to the entrance, these feeders can incite robbing behavior.
I don’t advo-
cate using a
feeder — it
bees to rob
the smell of
Don’t be tempted to make it easier for your bees to access the syrup you feed
them. I know of a beekeeper who put shims between the hive-top feeder and
hive to create a gap that makes it easier for the bees to access the syrup. The
result was a furious robbing attack from other bees. Keep your feeding device
where only your colony can reach it.
Ridding Your Hive of the Laying
If your colony loses its queen and is unable to raise a new queen, a strange
situation can arise. Without the “queen substance” wafting its way through
the hive, there is no pheromone to inhibit the development of the worker
183Chapter 9: Anticipating and Preventing Potential Problems
bees’ reproductive organs. In time, young workers’ ovaries begin to produce
eggs. But these eggs are not fertile (the workers are incapable of mating). So
the eggs can only hatch into drones. You may notice eggs, larvae, and brood
and never suspect a problem. But you have a huge problem! In time, the
colony will die off without a steady production of new worker bees to gather
food and tend to the young. A colony of drones is doomed.
How to know if you have laying workers
Be on the lookout for a potential laying-workers situation and take action
when it happens. The following are key indicators:
✓ You have no queen. Remember that every inspection starts with a
check for a healthy, laying queen. If you have lost your queen, you must
✓ You see lots and lots of drones. A normal hive never has more than a
few hundred drone bees. If you notice a big jump in the drone popula-
tion, you may have a problem.
✓ You see cells with two or more eggs. This is the definitive test. A queen
bee will place only one egg in a cell — never more than one. Laying
workers are not so particular; they will place two or more eggs in a
single cell. If you see more than one egg in a cell (see Figure 9-7), you
can be certain that you have laying worker bees. Time to take action!
is to count
eggs in the
cells. If you
tiple eggs in
a cell, you
184 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
Getting rid of laying workers
You may think that introducing a young and productive queen will set things
right. But it won’t. The laying workers will not accept a queen once they have
started laying eggs. If you attempt to introduce a queen, she will be swiftly
Before you can introduce a new queen, you need to get rid of all the laying
workers. But how? They look just like all the other workers! The solution is
tedious and time-consuming but 100-percent effective when done properly.
You need the following items:
✓ An empty deep hive body (no frames). The empty hive body will be used
to temporarily hold the frames you remove from the problem hive. You
will need two empty hive bodies if your problem hive consists of two
deep hive bodies.
✓ An outer cover
✓ A wheelbarrow or hand truck
Follow these steps:
1. Order a new marked queen from your bee supplier.
2. The day your queen arrives, put the entire “problem” hive (bees and
all, minus the bottom board) in the wheelbarrow (or on the hand
truck) and move it at least 100 yards away from its original location.
You’ll want those spare empty hive bodies and outer covers nearby.
The bottom board stays in its original location.
3. One by one, shake every last bee off each frame and onto the grass.
Not a single bee can remain on the frame — that bee might be a laying
worker. A bee brush (see Chapter 4) helps get the stubborn ones off.
4. Put each empty frame (without bees) into the spare empty hive(s) you
have standing by. These should be at least 15 to 20 feet away from the
Make sure that no bees return to these empty frames while you are
doing the procedure. Use the extra outer cover to ensure that they can’t
sneak back to their denuded frames.
5. When you have removed every bee from every frame, use the wheel-
barrow or hand truck to return the old (now bee-less) frames to the
original hive bodies.
Again, just make sure that no bees sneak back onto the frames.
185Chapter 9: Anticipating and Preventing Potential Problems
6. Place the hive to its original location on the bottom board, and trans-
fer all the denuded frames from their temporary housing. So now you
have the original hive bodies back at their original location, and all of
the originals frames (less bees) placed back into the hive.
Some of the bees will be there waiting for you. These are the older forag-
ing bees (not the younger laying workers). Be careful not to squash any
bees as you slide the hive back onto the bottom board.
Most of these older foraging bees will find their way back to the hive. But the
young nurse bees, the ones that have been laying eggs, have never ventured
out of the hive before. They will be lost in the grass where you deposited
them and will never find their way back to the hive.
Now you can safely introduce your new queen. See the instructions earlier in
There are rare occasions when a queen will lay nothing but drone eggs. This
happens when a new queen does not successfully mate. Queens that do not
mate (or older queens that use up their stored sperm) can only produce unfer-
tilized (drone) eggs. Such queens are termed drone layers. Such colonies are
doomed, since foraging workers are needed to survive, and fertilized eggs are
necessary to raise a replacement queen.
Preventing Pesticide Poisoning
With what we are finding out about Colony Collapse Disorder and its poten-
tial relationship to pesticides, we can’t be too careful when it comes to pes-
ticide use. I get upset when I see people spraying their lawns and trees with
pesticides. These chemicals may make for showcase lawns and specimen foli-
age, but they are no good for the water table, birds, and other critters. Some
of these treatments are deadly to bees. (Note: I’m not talking about fertilizers,
just pesticides here.) If you ever see a huge pile of dead bees in front of your
hive, you can be pretty sure that your girls were the victims of pesticide poi-
soning. Here are a few things you can do to avoid such a tragedy:
✓ Let your neighbors know that you are keeping bees. Make sure that they
know how beneficial pollinating bees are to the community and ecol-
ogy. Explain to them the devastating effect that pesticide spraying can
have on a colony. They may think twice about doing it at all. If they must
spray, urge them to do so at dawn or dusk, when the bees are not forag-
ing. Encourage your neighbors to call you the day before they plan to
spray. With advance warning, you can protect your bees.
186 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
✓ On the day your neighbors plan to spray, cover your hive with a bed
sheet that you have saturated with water. Let it drape to the ground.
The sheet will minimize the number of bees that fly that day. Remove
the sheet the following morning after the danger has passed.
Alternatively you can screen the entrance the night before the spraying
and keep the girls at home the entire day. Remove the screen and let
them fly the next day.
✓ Register your colony with the state apicultural office or agricultural
experiment station. You may have to pay a minimal charge for registra-
tion. Each state publishes a list of all registered beekeepers in the state.
Reputable arborists check such lists before spraying in a community. If
you are on the list, they will call you before they spray in your area.
The Killer Bee Phenomenon
The media has had a ball with the so-called killer bees. These nasty-tempered
bees have been fodder for fantastic headlines and low-budget horror movies.
At the same time, this kind of publicity has had a negative and unwelcome
impact on backyard beekeeping. The resulting fear in the community can
make it difficult for a beekeeper to gain the support and acceptance of his or
her neighbors. Moreover, sensational headlines have resulted in sensational
legislation against keeping bees in some communities. The public has been
put on guard. Killer bees present another problem for the beekeeper as well:
If your area has them, you must manage your colony carefully to prevent
your own bees from hybridizing and becoming more aggressive.
What are “killer bees”?
First of all, let’s get the name correct. The bees with the bad PR are actually
Africanized Honey Bees (AHB) — or Apis mellifera scutellata if you want to
get technical. The “killer bee” pseudonym was the doing of our friends in
How did the AHB problem come about? It all started in 1956 in Brazil. A group
of scientists was experimenting with breeding a new hybrid resulting in supe-
rior honey production. They were breeding the notoriously aggressive honey
bee from Africa with the far more docile European honey bee. But a little acci-
dent happened. Some African queen bees escaped into the jungles of Brazil.
The testy queens interbred with European bees in the area, and voilà — the
AHB become a force to deal with.
187Chapter 9: Anticipating and Preventing Potential Problems
Outwardly, AHBs look just like European honey bees. In fact, you must take
a peek under the microscope or do a DNA test to detect the difference. Their
venom is no more powerful. And like our sweet bees, they too die after inflict-
ing a sting. The main and most infamous difference is their temperament.
They are very defensive of their hives, are quick to attack, will chase an
intruder long distances, and stay angry for days after an incident.
There have been reports of human deaths resulting from attacks by AHBs.
But these reports are rare and almost always involve elderly victims who
have been unable to fend off the attackers. The media can put quite a sensa-
tional spin on such tragedies, and that has contributed to some bad PR for
honey bees in general.
My friend Kate Solomon worked for several years in the Peace Corps teach-
ing Brazilian beekeepers how to work with the AHB. Kate’s efforts (and yes,
she puts cotton in her nose and ears to keep unwanted explorers at bay!)
resulted in not a single sting from these “killer bees.”
In the half-century since “the accident” in Brazil, AHBs have been making
their way northward to the United States. In 1990, the first colonies of AHBs
were identified in southern Texas. As of this writing, they have been verified
in quite a number of the southern sates. There is speculation as to how far
north these bees are capable of surviving (after all, they are a tropical spe-
cies). In any event, they have arrived amid great publicity. Beekeepers and
the public will have to learn how to deal with them. For an up-to-date map of
the progress, go online to www.usda.gov and search “Africanized Bees”.
A “bee” movie
Hollywood producer Irwin Allen is the king of
the disaster movies. In his movie The Swarm,
great clouds of “killer bees” attack entire cities
and leave hundreds dead in their wake. It was
a disaster movie in more ways than one. As a
business venture, it tanked at the box office.
As a public relations vehicle for beekeepers, it
fueled a fire of fear in the minds of the public.
Despite what we see in movies like this, these
bees do not fly out in angry swarms to randomly
attack victims. But they are extremely protec-
tive of their hives should you venture too near
or disturb them.
188 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
Here are some helpful hints about safe beekeeping in areas known to be popu-
lated by AHBs:
✓ If you live in an area where AHBs have been seen, do not capture
swarms or populate your hive with anything other than package bees
from a reputable supplier. Otherwise, you may wind up with the hive
✓ If you are unlucky enough to disturb a colony of AHBs, don’t stick
around to see how many will sting you. Run in a straight line far away
from the bees. AHB are fast flyers, and you will have your work cut out
for you when you attempt to outrun them. Don’t jump into water —
they’ll be waiting for you when you surface. Instead, enter a building and
stay inside until things cool off.
✓ In the areas where the AHB has been introduced, diligent beekeepers are
the community’s best defense against the AHBs spread. By systemati-
cally inspecting her hive to spot her marked queen, a beekeeper knows
that her colony remains pure. Only when an unfamiliar queen (perhaps
an AHB) is introduced is the colony’s genetic integrity at risk. More than
ever, backyard beekeepers are needed to ensure that the AHB doesn’t
become a problem in any community.
✓ If you join a local bee club (and I highly recommend that you do),
encourage the club to publish information educating the public about
the benefits of beekeeping. Teach the community the real story about
the AHB. Take positive steps to quell the fear that may lurk in some peo-
ple’s minds. Let them know how important it is to have beekeepers who
can help control the spread of the AHB. A good education program is a
beekeeper’s best defense against local legislation restricting beekeeping
in the community.
An experiment that flopped
Despite the hopes of those Brazilian scientists
over half a century ago, the AHB has turned out
to be kind of a dud as compared to her European
✓ It is more difficult for beekeepers to
✓ It defends in larger groups, inflicting many
✓ It swarms far more frequently.
✓ It doesn’t produce appreciably more honey.
✓ It makes less wax.
In This Chapter
▶ Getting familiar with Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)
▶ Understanding what the fuss is about
▶ Thinking about what might be causing CCD
▶ Getting answers to frequently asked questions
▶ Looking at ways you can help save honey bees
Special thanks to the USDA for its help with this chapter
Unless you have been living in a remote cabin on the side of a forgotten
hill, you have likely noted that the media has been abuzz with news
about “the vanishing bees.” The last few years have been unhappy ones for
our bees. Since 2006, thousands upon thousands of honey bee colonies have
been vanishing. Gone without a trace. Poof!
Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is the name that has been given to what
seems to be the most serious die-off of honey bee colonies in decades. And to
get right to the point, as of this writing, it is not known what is causing it.
Although this news is unhappy, don’t despair. Becoming a new beekeeper is
one of the most useful things you can do to help save our lovely honey bees.
More on what else you can do later in this chapter.
What Is CCD?
In the autumn of 2006, a beekeeper in Florida filed the first report of a sudden
and unexplained disappearance of his bees. They didn’t die. They just packed
up and left. Then more reports of heavy losses (mostly from commercial
migratory beekeepers) quickly followed. During the next two years, some
commercial beekeepers have reported losing 30–90 percent of their hives.
190 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
Like a firestorm, this tragedy has swept across nearly all of the United States,
as well as some countries overseas. It has impacted both commercial bee-
keepers and hobbyists. It is a far-reaching problem that has serious conse-
quences (see the section “Why All the Fuss?”).
CCD is characterized by the sudden and unexplained disappearance of all adult
honey bees in the hive. A few young bees and perhaps the queen may remain.
Or there may be no bees left. Honey and pollen are usually present, and there
is often evidence of recent brood rearing. This abrupt evacuation is highly
unusual, because bees are not inclined to leave a hive if there is brood present.
Another puzzling characteristic is that opportunists (such as robbing bees
from other hives, wax moths, and small hive beetles) are very slow to invade
colonies experiencing CCD. There are no adult bees present to guard the
hive, lots of goodies to loot, and yet these invaders stay clear. Hmmm. What
do they know that we don’t?
The warning signs
Sometimes (rarely) bees abscond from a hive because conditions are too
unpleasant to remain in the hive: too hot, too many pests, not enough
food, no queen, and so on. (See Chapter 9.) But CCD is different from such
absconding. There don’t appear to be unfavorable conditions. And it’s hap-
pening at an alarming rate.
Colonies that experience CCD have the following characteristics:
✓ All or nearly all of the bees disappear suddenly.
✓ There are no adult bees in the hive (although in some cases the queen
and a small number of survivor bees are present in the brood nest) and
there is or very little build-up of dead bees in the hive or at the hive
✓ Capped brood is left behind.
✓ There are pollen and capped honey.
✓ Empty hives are not quickly invaded by opportunists (robbing bees, wax
moths, small hive beetle, and so on).
What to Do If You Suspect CCD?
Don’t panic. As a new beekeeper you may be jumping to unwarranted
conclusions. To date, CCD has been far more prevalent among commercial
beekeepers than hobbyists like us.
191Chapter 10: Colony Collapse Disorder
If you are convinced you might have a problem, I urge you to contact your
state bee inspector. He or she is best qualified to evaluate your diagnosis. Call
your state’s Agricultural Experiment Station and ask to be connected to the
head bee inspector. He or she is likely to make a house call if you ask nicely.
Why All the Fuss?
The media is all over this story. It’s even hit the evening national news. Why
is CCD making headlines? Imagine a world without bees. That would be an
unhappy world. Did you know that honey bees account for 30 percent of
everything you eat? Commercial beekeepers provide honey bees to farmers
all around the country to pollinate the crops that wind up in our supermar-
kets. If these pollinating mavericks were all to disappear, there would be less
crops and higher prices in your grocery store. No question about it. Honey
bees are critical for agricultural pollination — adding more than $15 billion in
value to about 130 crops — especially crops like berries, nuts, fruits, and veg-
etables. The unexplained disappearance of so many colonies is not a matter
to take lightly. Table 10-1 summarizes some of the consequences of a world
Table 10-1 Pollination Experiments
Crop Without Honey Bees With Honey Bees
Pears 99 lbs. fruit 344 lbs. fruit
Alfalfa 62 lbs. seed per acre 220 lbs. seed per acre
Apples 25 apples per tree 1,200 apples per tree
Experiment results showing comparison of crops pollinated by honey bees versus the same crops
netted to prevent pollination. Source: W.R. Roach Company Orchards and other sources.
What’s Causing CCD?
The short answer is — we don’t know. At least not at the time of this writing.
But researchers have managed to dismiss some “wild” theories and are now
focusing in on other more probable causes.
The cell phone theory
There was a well-publicized theory that it was the explosion of cell phone
usage that was causing CCD. Could it be? The short answer is no.
192 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
There was a very small study done in Germany that looked at whether a
particular type of base station for mobile phones could screw-up honey bee
navigation. But, despite all the media attention that this study received, it
had nothing to do with CCD. The researcher who conducted the study told
the Associated Press that there is “no link between our tiny little study and
the CCD-phenomenon . . . anything else said or written is a lie.” The scientists
studying CCD agree. Case closed.
It may be the perfect storm
Far more likely it is not one single thing that is causing CCD, but rather a
brew of many different challenges that have contributed to this problem. In a
nutshell, there are four classes of potential causes that are being studied by
scientists around the world: parasites (such as mites); pathogens (disease);
environmental stresses (which include pesticides); and management stresses
(including nutrition problems). If CCD is a combination of factors, it makes
investigating the root cause especially complex. There are so many variables!
Although this is not a complete list of what’s being studied, here are some of
the more significant ingredients to this dire cocktail.
The spread of Varroa and tracheal mites has certainly seriously impacted
honey bee health in the United States and around the world. It has nearly
wiped out honey bees in the wild (feral hives). The mites have put a major
stress on our honey bees and could certainly make our girls far more suscep-
tible to some of the other causes being studied.
In Chapter 11 I talk about bee viruses. While there are many different viruses
that can impact honey bee health, there is one in particular being studied
in connection with CCD: Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV). This particular
virus is not necessarily the cause of CCD, but is more likely one ingredient
to that cocktail that might trigger CCD. This research is being headed by Dr.
Diana Cox-Foster at Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences. For the most
up-to-date information on the potential connection between CCD and IAPV,
Researchers have found higher-than-expected levels of miticides (used and
sometimes misused by beekeepers to control mites) plus traces of a wide
variety of agricultural chemicals in the pollen and wax of inspected hives.
193Chapter 10: Colony Collapse Disorder
Some believe that pesticides, especially a relatively new class called neonico-
tinoids, are responsible for CCD. Most neonicotinoids are known to be toxic
to bees. They can impair olfaction memory, motor activity feeding behavior,
and the bees’ navigation and orientation. Neonicotinoids and some fungi-
cides are synergistic, resulting in a far more toxic situation. All in all, this is
some nasty stuff. Pesticide involvement in CCD remains a possibility that has
not been ruled out.
There are a host of other possible causes now under study, including the
✓ Nutritional fitness of the adult bees
✓ Level of stress in adult bees as indicated by stress-induced proteins
✓ The use of honey bee antibiotics (especially new products in the market)
✓ Feeding bees high-fructose corn syrup (as is common with commercial
✓ Availability and quality of natural food sources
✓ Lack of genetic diversity and lineage of bees
Answers to FAQs
Is honey from CCD colonies safe to eat? To date there is no evidence that
CCD affects honey. The impact of CCD appears to be limited to adult bees.
Is it safe to reuse the equipment from colonies that are lost during the
winter? If it can be determined that the bees starved or died due to other
reasons associated with typical winter loss (e.g., mites), it is completely safe
to reuse equipment, including the remaining honey and pollen. However if
your colonies died from what appears to be CCD, reusing equipment is not a
good idea. Play it safe and store this equipment in a safe place until we know
more about CCD and the associated causes.
Who is working on this problem? There is an army of researchers, apiculture
extension specialists, and government officials who have come together to
work on CCD. This group is called the CCD Working Group. For a complete list
of the institutions and individuals involved, and for up-to-date information on
the research, visit the Web site: www.MAAREC.org. Additional information
can be found at the Web site for the United States Department of Agriculture:
194 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
What You Can Do to Help
There are a lot of things you can do to fend-off CCD in your neck of the
woods. Although we don’t yet know the actual causes of CCD, here are some
sensible actions you can take immediately.
✓ Become a beekeeper! What a great way to reintroduce honey bees in
your area. Hopefully this book will get you started.
✓ Keep colonies strong by practicing best management practices. In other
words, follow the steps in this book religiously!
✓ Feed colonies Fumigillin in the spring and autumn to prevent Nosema.
Although Nosema apis is not considered the cause of CCD, its presence
can create stress factors that might promote CCD. See chapter 11.
✓ Replace old comb with new foundation every one to two years. This
will minimize the amount of residual chemicals that might be present
in old wax.
✓ Avoid introducing stress to your colonies (provide adequate ventilation;
feed your bees when pollen and nectar are scarce; keep mite infestations
in check; medicate against Nosema).
✓ Do not reuse the equipment if the colony displayed symptoms of CCD.
Such equipment should be stored until CCD is understood better.
✓ If you treat your colonies with an antibiotic to prevent or control
American or European foulbrood, use Terramycin rather than Tylan. Tylan
is new on the market and does not have a long track record. Terramycin
has a longer history of safe use in bee colonies. See chapter 11
✓ Monitor Varroa mite populations and take steps to treat your colony
when mite levels become unacceptable.
✓ Consider using an integrated pest management (IPM) approach for
Varroa control in honey bee colonies. This approach can minimize the
need for chemical use in your hives and lessens the bees’ exposure to
chemicals (see sidebar).
✓ Avoid the use of chemicals and pesticides in your garden and on your
lawn. The use and misuse of pesticides is on the short list of factors
that might be harming honey bees. Limit the use of these chemicals, or
better yet, go au natural (after all, Dandelion lawns can be very beauti-
ful!). Convince your neighbors to do the same.
✓ Plant a bee-friendly garden. Good nutrition is vital to the overall health
of the colony.
✓ Write your Congressional representatives. Funding for honey bee
research is more critical than ever. Let the feds know you care about
our precious honey bees.
195Chapter 10: Colony Collapse Disorder
A Final Word
Don’t let all this gloomy news prevent your enjoyment as a beekeeper.
Although CCD is a serious concern for our honey bees, I am confident that
remedies will be forthcoming. As mentioned earlier, becoming a backyard
beekeeper is the single best thing you can do to help our honey bees.
Embrace and enjoy this glorious hobby, and feel good about helping the
honey bee get back on its feet. All six of them.
What Is IPM?
The idea of IPM (integrated pest manage-
ment) is to manage honey bee pests (such as
wax moths and Varroa and tracheal mites) by
the minimal use of chemicals. The key word
is “manage”, not necessarily to eliminate the
pests. Some general rules of thumb:
just do what’s needed to help the bees help
✓ Monitor, sample, and test regularly to make
✓ Use soft (non-chemical) treatments when-
icals) when only absolutely necessary.
✓ Practice rotational use of chemicals to
avoid pests developing resistance.
A whole book could be devoted to the nuances
of IPM, but there are many examples of IPM
scattered throughout this book. Consider the
following as IPM best-practice techniques:
✓ Placing supers in the freezer prior to stor-
age to kill wax moth larvae and pupa.
✓ Using screened bottom boards to monitor
and manage Varroa populations.
✓ Dusting the colony with powdered sugar to
knock mites off the bees.
✓ Developing resistant bee stock by rais-
ing your own queens from your heartiest
✓ Using drone comb to capture and remove
as essential oils, menthol, grease patties.
✓ Replacing old wax comb with new founda-
tion every two to three years.
✓ Placing metal mouse guards at the entrance
of the hive.
196 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
In This Chapter
▶ Deciding to medicate
▶ Preventing problems before they happen
▶ Recognizing the first signs of trouble
▶ Nursing sick bees back to good health
Iwon’t pretend otherwise — this is not the fun part of beekeeping. I’d
much rather never have to think about my bees getting sick. My heart
aches when they do. Nothing is more devastating than losing a colony to
disease. But let’s get real. Honey bees, like any other living creatures, are sus-
ceptible to illness. Although some of these diseases aren’t too serious, some
can be devastating. The good news is that you can prevent many honey bee
health problems before they happen, and you can often head off disaster if
you know the early signs of trouble.
Right away let me clear up one thing. None of the health problems that affect
bees have any impact on human health. These diseases are 100-percent
unique to your bees. They’re not harmful or contagious in any way to you or
your family. Phew! That’s a relief!
In this chapter I’ve highlighted the most common health problems that your
bees may face. As you inspect your hives, look carefully at the capped and
open brood cells (what’s going on in these cells is often the barometer of
your colony’s health). Discover how to recognize the telltale indications of
Medicating or Not?
I know what you’re thinking. Should you put medication in your hive or not?
Wouldn’t keeping everything natural and avoiding the use of any chemicals,
medications, or antibiotics be better? Maybe you can even save a few dol-
lars? Well, perhaps the answer to that question depends on your practice in
other areas. Do you avoid taking your dog to the vet for distemper shots and
heartworm pills? Do you send your kids off to school without their vaccines?
198 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
Probably not. Bees are no different. Without some help from you, I can assure
you they’ll eventually have a problem. You may even run the risk of losing
your hive entirely. Don’t risk it. Follow a sensible annual medication regime
and look carefully for signs of trouble every time you inspect your colony.
Remember that you should never ever medicate your bees when you
have honey on the hive that is intended for human consumption. Medicate
before honey supers go on the hive, or after they are removed. For a
description of honey supers and their use, see Chapter 4.
Knowing the Big Six Bee Diseases
You should be on the lookout for six honey bee diseases. Some are rare, and
it’s doubtful that you’ll ever encounter them. Some are more commonplace
(like Nosema and chalkbrood) and knowing what to do if they come knocking
is important. Some, like American foulbrood, are very serious, and you need
to know how to recognize and deal with them.
Each time you inspect your bees, you’re looking for two things: evidence of
the queen (look for eggs) and evidence of health problems (look for the symp-
toms I describe below).
American foulbrood (AFB)
I’ll start with the worst of the lot. American foulbrood (AFB) is a nasty bacte-
rial disease that attacks larvae and pupae. This serious threat is highly con-
tagious to bees (not people) and, left unchecked, is certain to kill your entire
colony. It’s the most terrible of the bee diseases. Some symptoms are
✓ Infected larvae change color from a healthy pearly white to tan or dark
brown and die after they’re capped.
✓ Cappings of dead brood sink inward (becoming concave) and often
appear perforated with tiny holes.
✓ The capped brood pattern no longer is compact, but becomes spotty
and random. This is sometimes referred to as a “shotgun” pattern (see
this book’s color-photo section).
✓ The surface of the cappings may appear wet or greasy.
If you see these conditions, confirm that it’s AFB by thrusting a toothpick or
matchstick into the dead brood, mixing it around, and then slowly withdraw-
ing the toothpick. Observe the material that is being drawn out of the cell as
you withdraw the toothpick. Brood killed by AFB will be stringy and will rope
199Chapter 11: Diseases and Remedies
out about ¼ inch (like pulling taffy) and then snap back like a rubber band
(see “Spotting Problems” in this book’s color-photo section). That test can
confirm the presence of AFB. Also take a close look at the dead pupae. Some
may have tongues protruded at a right angle to the cell wall. There may also
be a telltale odor associated with this disease. Most describe it as an unpleas-
ant “foul” smell (like a pot of old-fashioned horse glue). If you suspect a foul
smell, and that smell lingers in your nose after leaving the hive, your bees
might have AFB.
If you suspect that your bees actually have AFB, immediately ask your state
bee inspector to check your diagnosis. Treatment for AFB is subject to state
law in the United States. If AFB is present, it is likely that your hives and
equipment will have to be burned and destroyed. Why such drastic mea-
sures? Sleeping spores of AFB can remain active (even on old unused equip-
ment) for up to 70 years.
You can help prevent the onset on AFB by treating your colonies in the
spring and autumn with antibiotics approved for use with honey bees.
There are two products currently on the market: Tylan (tylosin tartrate) and
Terramycin (oxy-tetracycline). These medications are available from bee
equipment suppliers. To administer, carefully follow the instructions on the
Never purchase old, used equipment. No matter how tempting the offer may
be — no matter how well you know the seller. If the bees that once lived in
that hive ever had AFB, the disease-causing spores remain in the equipment
for decades. No amount of scrubbing, washing, sanding or cleaning can
remedy the situation. Please start your new adventure in beekeeping by pur-
chasing new and hygienic equipment.
European foulbrood (EFB)
European foulbrood (EFB) is a bacterial disease of larvae. Unlike AFB,
larvae infected with EFB die before they’re capped. Symptoms of EFB
include the following:
✓ Very spotty brood pattern (many empty cells scattered among the
capped brood). This is sometimes referred to as a “shotgun” pattern.
✓ Infected larvae are twisted in the bottoms of their cells like an inverted
corkscrew. The larvae are either a light tan or brown color, and have a
smooth “melted” appearance. Remember that normal, healthy larvae are
a glistening, bright white color.
✓ With EFB, nearly all of the larvae die in their cells before they are
capped. This makes it easy for you to see the discolored larvae.
200 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
✓ Capped cells may be sunken in and perforated, but the “toothpick test”
won’t result in the telltale ropy trail as described above for AFB.
✓ A sour odor may be present (but not as foul as AFB).
Here’s the best way to view frames for diseased larvae. Hold the frame by the
ends of the top bar. Stand with your back to the sun and the light shining over
your shoulder and down into the cells. The frame should be sharply angled so
you are looking at the true bottom of the cell. Most new beekeepers interpret
the “bottom” as the midrib of the comb. It isn’t. The true bottom of the cell is
the lower wall of the cell (the wall that’s closest to the hive’s bottom board
when the frame is hanging in the hive). Because EFB bacteria don’t form per-
sistent spores, this disease isn’t as dangerous as AFB. Colonies with EFB
sometimes recover by themselves after a good nectar flow begins. Although
serious, EFB is not as devastating as AFB and can be successfully prevented or
treated with antibiotics.
Prophylactically (preventively) treating colonies in the spring and autumn
with Terramycin or Tylan can help prevent EFB (see Chapter 9). If you’ve
detected EFB, requeen your colony (replace the old queen with a new one;
see Chapter 9) to break the brood cycle and allow the colony time to remove
infected larvae. Help the bees out, and remove as many of the infected
larvae as you can using a pair of tweezers. Treat the colony with Tylan or
Terramycin following the instructions on the package.
It’s a good hygienic practice to replace all of the frames and comb in your
hives every few years. There are a couple of compelling reasons for doing this:
Replacing old frames minimizes the spread of disease; old wax can contain
residual medication from past treatments — building resistance and making
medication treatments ineffective when needed.
New medications on the horizon
With Colony Collapse Disorder in the news (see
Chapter 10), the honey bee has become quite a
celebrity. Its value to our economy is well rec-
ognized, and there is much research underway
to save these little creatures. There are new
medications and treatments being tested and
developed as I write. I urge you to subscribe to
one or more of the bee journals to keep tabs on
these new developments regarding honey bee
201Chapter 11: Diseases and Remedies
Nosema, a common protozoan disease that affects the intestinal tracks of
adult bees, is kind of like dysentery in humans. It can weaken a hive and
reduce honey production by between 40 and 50 percent. It can even wipe out
a colony of bees. It’s most common in spring after bees have been confined
to the hive during the winter. The problem is, that by the time the symptoms
are visible, it has gone too far and is difficult or impossible to treat. Some
symptoms of Nosema are
✓ In the spring, infected colonies build up slowly or perhaps not at all.
✓ Bees appear weak and may shiver and crawl aimlessly around the front
of the hive.
✓ The hive has a characteristic spotting, which refers to streaks of
mustard-brown feces that appear in and on the hive.
You can discourage Nosema by selecting hive sites that have good airflow
and a nearby source of fresh, clean water. Avoid damp, cold conditions that
can encourage Nosema. Provide your hives with full or dappled sunlight.
Creating an upper entrance for the bees during winter improves ventilation
and discourages Nosema. Purchase your bees and queens from reputable
suppliers who treat their bees with antibiotics to minimize infection.
Medicate for Nosema prophylactically (preventively) by feeding Fumigilin (an
antibiotic) in sugar syrup in the spring and fall. See Chapter 8 for how to pre-
pare and feed medicated sugar syrups.
You should add Fumigilin-B to the first two gallons of sugar syrup that you
feed your bees in the spring. Also medicate the first two gallons you feed them
in the autumn (see Chapter 8). Any additional gallons of syrup you feed to the
bees are not medicated.
Chalkbrood is a common fungal disease that affects bee larvae. Chalkbrood
pops up most frequently during damp conditions in early spring. It is rather
common and usually not that serious. Infected larvae turn a chalky white
color, become hard, and may occasionally turn black. You may not even
know that your bees have it until you spot the chalky carcasses on the hive’s
“front porch.” Worker bees on “undertaker duty” attempt to remove the
chalkbrood as quickly as possible, often dropping their heavy loads at the
entrance or on the ground in front of the hive.
202 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
Misdiagnosing this disease is common, because it’s easily confused with
chilled brood (see Chapter 9). You see carcasses at the hive entrance with
both anomalies, but with chalkbrood, the bodies are hard and chalky (not soft
and translucent as is true with chilled brood).
No medical treatment is necessary for chalkbrood. Your colony should
recover okay on its own. But you can help them out by removing mummified
carcasses from the hive’s entrance and from the ground around the hive.
Also, usually one frame will have most of the chalkbrood cells. Remove this
frame from the hive and replace it with a new frame and foundation. This
action minimizes the bees’ job of cleaning up. Also consider replacing your
queen by ordering a new one from your bee supplier (or by providing one
of your own if you are raising queens — see Chapter 13.) Your help quickly
arrests the spread of the fungus.
Sacbrood is a viral disease of brood similar to a common cold. It isn’t consid-
ered a serious threat to the colony. Infected larvae turn yellow and eventually
dark brown. They’re easily removed from their cells, because they appear to
be in a water-filled sack. Now you know where the name comes from.
No recommended medical treatment exists for sacbrood. But you can
shorten the duration of this condition by removing the sacs with a pair of
tweezers. Other than that intervention, let the bees slug it out for themselves.
Do your best to keep your bees free of stressful problems (mites, poor ventila-
tion, crowded conditions) and they’ll have an easier time staying healthy and
avoiding disease. Be sure to feed them sugar syrup and pollen substitute in
the spring and sugar syrup in the autumn.
Stonebrood is a fungal disease that affects larvae and pupae. It is rare and
doesn’t often show up. Stonebrood causes the mummification of brood.
Mummies are hard and solid (not sponge-like and chalky as with chalk-
brood). Some brood may become covered with a powdery green fungus.
203Chapter 11: Diseases and Remedies
No medical treatment is recommended for stonebrood. In most instances
worker bees remove dead brood, and the colony recovers on its own. You can
help things along by cleaning up mummies at the entrance and around the
hive, and removing heavily infested frames (see treatment for chalkbrood).
If you have more than one hive, think twice before shaking sick bees onto the
ground and exposing other healthy bees to the problem.
A handy chart
Table 11-1 gives you a quick overview of the big six bee diseases, their
causes, and their distinguishable symptoms. It contains a description of a
healthy bee colony for comparison purposes.
Honey bee viruses
Adult honey bees may occasionally fall prey
to various different kinds of viruses. Sacbrood
is one such viral disease. But there are quite
a few others that impact honey bees. Viruses
aren’t easily detected and are often overlooked
by beekeepers. Some researchers are explor-
ing a link between viruses and Colony Collapse
Disorder (see Chapter 10). Perhaps the most
easily recognized virus is chronic bee paralysis,
which causes workers to become greasy look-
ing, hairless, and uniformly black in color. Sick
bees are seen crawling on the grass in front of
the hive, simply unable to fly.
Note: Colonies infested with mites (see Chapter
12) are far more susceptible to viral diseases,
because open wounds created by mites are an
invitation to infection.
The subject of bee viruses is a fast moving
target, with new developments and discoveries
taking place every year. I urge you subscribe to
one or more of the bee journals to keep tabs on
developments regarding honey bee health.
No medical treatment exists for honey bee
viruses, but if you know your bees have a virus,
you can help. One by one, remove each frame
from the hive and carry it 10 to 20 feet away.
Now shake all the bees off the frame and return
it (empty) to the hive. Do this for all frames. The
sick bees will not be able to return to the hive.
The healthy ones will have no trouble making
206 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
In This Chapter
▶ Getting to know some common pests
▶ Recognizing and preventing potential problems
▶ Treating your colony when the going gets tough
▶ Utilizing some holistic alternatives to modern medicine
▶ Keeping out some furry nonfriends
Even healthy bee colonies can run into trouble every now and then.
Critters (four-legged and multilegged) can create problems for your
hives. Anticipating such trouble can head off disaster. And if any of these
pests get the better of your colony, you’ll need to know what steps to take to
prevent things from getting worse.
In this chapter I introduce you to a few of the most common pests of the
honey bee, and what you must do to prevent catastrophe.
Two little mites have gotten a lot of publicity in recent years about big prob-
lems they’ve created for honey bees: the Varroa mite and the tracheal mite.
These parasites have become unwelcome facts of life for beekeepers, chang-
ing the way they care for their bees. You need to be aware of these pests and
find out how to control them. Doing nothing to protect your bees from mites
is like playing a game of Russian roulette.
Somehow this little pest (Varroa destructor) has made its way from Asia to
all parts of the world, with the exception of Hawaii. Varroa has been in the
United States since the late 1980s (maybe longer) and has created quite a
208 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
problem for beekeepers. Resembling a small tick, this mite is about the size
of a pinhead and is visible to the naked eye. Like a tick, the adult female mite
attaches herself to a bee and feeds on its blood (hemolymph fluid).
Hemolymph fluid is the “blood” of arthropods. It is the fluid that circulates in
the body cavity of an insect, and carries oxygen like mammal blood does.
Mites attached to foraging worker bees enable the infestation to spread from
one hive to another. The Varroa mite is strongly attracted to the scent of
drone larvae, but it also invades other brood cells just before they’re capped
over by the bees. Within the cells Varroa mites feed on the developing bees
and lay eggs. They reproduce at a fantastic rate and cause a great deal of
stress to the colony. The health of the colony can weaken to a point that bees
become highly susceptible to viruses. Within a couple of seasons, the entire
colony can be wiped out. See Figure 12-1.
a hive by
ing on their
Courtesy of United States Department of Agriculture
Recognizing Varroa mite symptoms
How do you know if your colony has a serious infestation of Varroa mites?
Following is a list of some Varroa mite symptoms. If you suspect a Varroa
infestation, confirm your diagnosis using one of the surefire detection tech-
niques I describe in the next section.
✓ Do you see brown or reddish spots on the white larvae? You may be
✓ Are any of the newly emerged bees badly deformed? You may notice
some bees with stunted abdomens and deformed wings.
✓ Do you actually see Varroa on adult bees? They’re usually found
behind the head or nestled between the bee’s abdominal segments.
209Chapter 12: Honey Bee Pests
Finding mites on adult bees indicates a heavy infestation. The mites
head for bee larvae first (before the larvae are capped and develop into
pupae). They then feed on capped pupae. It doesn’t take much to figure
out that by the time the mites are prevalent on adult bees, the mite pop-
ulation is quite high.
✓ Did your colony suddenly die in late autumn? Oops! You’re way too
late to solve the problem this year. You’ll have to start fresh with a new
colony next spring.
Utilizing two surefire detection techniques for Varroa
If you suspect a Varroa mite problem, then, by all means, confirm your diag-
nosis by using either the powdered sugar shake method or the drone brood
inspection method. But performing one of these detection techniques before
you suspect a problem is best. Varroa detection needs to be a routine part of
your inspection schedule. I suggest using the powdered sugar shake method
twice a year — once in the early spring, and once in the late summer.
Powdered sugar shake method
The powdered sugar shake technique is my favorite method for detecting
Varroa. It is effective and nondestructive (no bees are killed in the process).
You use this process in the early spring (before honey supers go on) and again
in the late summer (before the honey supers come off). Follow these steps:
1. Obtain a one pint wide-mouthed glass jar (the kind mayonnaise comes
in) and modify the lid so that it has a coarse screen insert. Just cut out
the center of the lid and tape or glue a wire screen over the opening
(see Figure 12-2).
Hardware cloth (eight wires to the inch) works well. Now you have
something resembling a jumbo saltshaker.
2. Put 3 to 4 tablespoons of powdered sugar (confectioners’ sugar) into
the jar. Alternatively you can use granulated sugar.
3. Scoop up about half a cup of live bees (about 200 to 300) from the
brood nest and place them in the jar. Be careful that you don’t scoop
up the queen! Screw on the perforated lid.
4. Cover the screened lid with one hand (to keep the sugar from spilling
out) and shake the jar vigorously (like a bartender making a martini).
This action doesn’t really harm the bees, but it sure wakes them up!
5. Shake the sugar through the screened top and onto a white sheet
of paper. Open the top and let the bees fly home (you may want to
stand to the side as they will be rather unhappy). When the bees have
departed, shake the rest of the sugar onto the paper.
Shake authoritatively. Doing so dislodges any mites that are on the bees.
The mites can easily be counted, contrasted against the white paper and
210 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
This jar’s lid
If you count ten or more mites, you should proceed with the recommended
treatment (see the “Knowing how to control Varroa mite problems” later in
this chapter). Seeing many dozens of mites means the infestation has become
significant. Take remedial action fast!
Bees can be returned unharmed to the hive using this technique. Although
they may be coated with sugar, their sisters nevertheless have a grand time
licking them clean. Just wait 10 to 15 minutes to let them calm down before
releasing them. All that jostling can make them understandably irritable.
Drone brood inspection method
Regrettably, the drone brood inspection method kills some of the drone
brood. I prefer the sugar shake method for that reason alone. If you choose
this drone brood inspection technique, follow these steps:
1. Find a frame with a large patch of capped drone brood.
They are the larger capped brood with slightly dome-shaped cappings.
Shake all the bees off the frame, and move to an area away from the hive
where you can work undisturbed.
2. Using an uncapping fork (see Chapter 12), slide the prongs along the
cappings spearing the top third of the cappings and impaling the
drone pupae as you shovel across the frame. See Figure 12-3.
3. Pull the drone pupae straight out of their cells.
Any mites are clearly visible against the white pupae. Repeat the pro-
cess to take a larger sampling. See Figure 12-4.
211Chapter 12: Honey Bee Pests
Two or more mites on a single pupa indicate a serious, heavy infestation. Two
or three mites per 50 pupae indicate a low to moderate infestation. But remem-
ber, whenever you see any mites at all, it’s time to consider taking action! (See
“Knowing how to control Varroa mite problems” next.)
prongs of an
pings so you
Courtesy of Stephen McDaniel
to look for
pupae? Courtesy of Stephen McDaniel
212 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
Evaluating the Varroa population using a screened bottom board
About 10 percent to 15 percent of Varroa mites routinely fall off the bees and
drop to the bottom board. But if you use a screened bottom board (some-
times called a “sticky” board), the mites fall through the screen and onto a
removable tacky white board.
When this white board is in place, mites fall through the screen and become
stuck to the sheet (you apply a thin film of petroleum jelly or a cooking spray
to the sheet to help the mites stick).
Just insert the sheet for a day or two and then remove it to count the mites.
If the number of mites is more than 50, then appropriate control measures
should be taken.
A screened bottom board is also an excellent way to improve ventilation in
Knowing how to control Varroa mite problems
A number of products and techniques are available that help reduce or even
eliminate Varroa mites populations. Here are the ones that I suggest you con-
sider and a few that I think you should avoid as a new beekeeper.
In recent years, it is a generally accepted practice not to medicate your bees
unless you know it is necessary. Medicating your bees as a protective measure
can actually diminish the effectiveness of medication when you absolutely,
positively need it. The mites can build a resistance when medications are used
There are a few effective and approved miticides (chemicals that kill mites).
One is fluvalinate, which is sold under the brand name, Apistan, and is avail-
able from your beekeeping supplier. Another is coumaphos (marketed as
CheckMite+). Formic Acid is also used as a treatment for tracheal mites (sold
in gel packs under the brand name Miteaway II). In addition there are “soft”
(safer) chemicals such as thymol (marketed as Apiguard). When any of the
detection techniques mentioned earlier in this chapter indicate Varroa mites,
you must immediately treat with one of these treatments by carefully follow-
ing the directions on the package.
Because Varroa mites can develop a resistance to these medications, it is pru-
dent to alternate between two or more of these from one season to the next.
Apistan is packaged as chemical-impregnated strips that look kind of like
bookmarks. Hang two of the plastic strips in the brood chamber between
second and third frames and the seventh and eighth frames (see Figure 12-5).
213Chapter 12: Honey Bee Pests
You’re positioning the strips close to the brood so the bees naturally come
into contact with the miticide they contain. The bees will brush up against
each other and transfer the fluvalinate throughout the hive.
Following package directions precisely is important with any of the miticides
listed in this chapter. The use of protective gloves is also recommended.
Courtesy of Wellmark International
Never treat your bees with any kind of medication when you have honey
supers on the hive. If you do, your honey becomes contaminated and cannot
be used for human consumption. Note: Feeding medicated honey to the bees
is, however, perfectly okay.
Some mites have developed a resistance to Apistan, so new miticides have
entered the market. CheckMite+ is a product manufactured by the Bayer
Corporation (of aspirin fame). Like Apistan, it also consists of strips impreg-
nated with a chemical miticide. But in the case of CheckMite+ the chemical is
coumaphos — an ingredient used in deadly nerve gas. It’s tricky to use safely.
My advice? New beekeepers should steer clear of CheckMite+ until they gain
214 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
Mite-Away II (Formic acid)
Formic acid is available in gel packs, but it is so caustic and tricky to adminis-
ter that I don’t suggest that new beekeepers use it, either.
Apiguard is a natural product specifically designed for use in beehives. It is
a slow-release gel matrix, ensuring correct dosage of the active ingredient
thymol. Thymol is a naturally occurring substance derived from the plant
thyme. It is effective against the Varroa mite and is also active against both
tracheal mite and chalkbrood. It is easy to use and much safer than formic
acid or coumaphos. You might try alternating between Apistan and Apiguard
if you need to treat your bees for Varroa mites.
Go au naturel!
You don’t always have to use chemicals to deal with Varroa mites. Integrated
pest management (IPM) is the practice of controlling honey bee pests with the
minimal use of chemicals. See Chapter 10 for more on IPM. As it relates to con-
trolling Varroa mites, here are a couple of non-chemical options to consider.
Use Drone Comb to Capture Varroa Mites. Bee suppliers sell a special
“drone” foundation that has larger hexagons imprinted in the sheet. The bees
will only build drone comb on these sheets. That’s useful, because Varroa
mites prefer drone brood over worker brood. By placing a frame of drone
comb in each of your hives, you can “capture” and remove a many mites.
Once the drone cells are capped, remove the frame and place it overnight
in your freezer. This will kill the drone brood and also the mites that have
invaded the cells. Then uncap the cells and place the frame (with the dead
drone brood and dead mites back in the hive. The bees will clean it out
(removing the dead drone brood and mites). The cells will get filled again,
and you repeat the process.
Powdered Sugar Dusting to Control Varroa Mites. This involves dusting the
bees with powdered sugar (note it’s best to find a powdered sugar without
added corn starch, although some claim this is not so critical. Play it safe and
ask your bee supplies for a “pure” powdered sugar). The idea behind this
technique is that the powdered sugar knocks many of the mites off the bees,
and the mites fall down through the screened bottom board and perish in the
grass below the hive (this assumes you are using an elevated hive stand and
a screened bottom board with the insert removed). Use this method when
you note a mite problem in your hive(s).
215Chapter 12: Honey Bee Pests
Here’s the process:
1. Sift a pound of powdered sugar using a baking flour sifter. Do this twice
to ensure no lumps. This should be done on a day with low humidity.
2. Put the sifted sugar into an empty (and cleaned), baby powder con-
tainer (alternatively you can improvise your own container).
3. Smoke and open the hive. Remove frames one by one, and dust the
bees with the sugar. The key operating word is “dusting” the bees . . .
not coating them with loads of powdered sugar. You want to master a
technique that makes light clouds of sugar dust — don’t shake the sugar
directly on the bees.
4. Here’s where a frame perch comes in handy (see Chapter 4). Place the
frame on the perch and do your dusting thing.
5. Avoid dusting any open cells. You just want to dust the backs of the bees.
6. Put the dusted frame back into the hive and repeat this process with
7. When done, but a little extra dusting along all the top bars.
This should be repeated once a week for two to three weeks.
Another mite that can create serious trouble for your bees is the tracheal
mite (Acarapis woodi) shown in Figure 12-6. These little pests are much
smaller than the period at the end of this sentence and can’t be seen with the
naked eye. Dissecting an adult bee and examining its trachea under magnifi-
cation is the only way to identify a tracheal mite infestation.
As its name implies, this mite lives most of its life within the bee’s trachea
(breathing tubes), as shown in Figure 12-7. Mated female mites pass from
one bee to another when the bees come in close contact with each other.
Once the mite finds a newly emerged bee, she attaches to the young host
and enters its tracheal tubes through one of the bee’s spiracles — holes that
are part of the respiratory system. Within the trachea the mite lays eggs and
raises a new generation. The tracheal mite causes what once was referred
to as acarine disease of the honey bee (a rather old-fashioned term not used
much these days).
In my opinion, this mite causes more trouble for hobbyist beekeepers than
Varroa. Early detection of bad infestations is difficult. As a result, tracheal
mites can lead to the total loss of a colony before you’re even aware that your
bees are infested. Infestations are at their worst during winter months when
216 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
bees are less active. Her majesty isn’t laying eggs, so no new bees are emerg-
ing to make up for attrition. Winter also is when beekeepers don’t routinely
inspect the colony. Thus, seemingly healthy colonies with plenty of food
sometimes suddenly die during late winter or early spring.
Symptoms that may indicate tracheal mites
The only surefire way to detect tracheal mites involves dissecting a bee
under a microscope — a little tricky for the novice, and not everyone has
a dissection microscope in the hall closet. Whenever you suspect tracheal
mites, call your state apiary inspector for information about how to have
your bees inspected for tracheal mites.
A few clues may indicate the presence of tracheal mites. But the symptoms,
listed below, are unreliable because they also may indicate other problems.
✓ You see many weak bees stumbling around on the ground in front of
the hive. (This condition could also be an indication of Nosema disease;
see Chapter 11.)
✓ You spot some bees climbing up a stalk of grass to fly, but instead they
just fall to the ground. This happens because mites clog the trachea and
deprive the bee of oxygen to its wing muscles.
✓ You notice bees with K-wings (wings extended at odd angles — not
folded in the normal position). This also can be an indication of
✓ Bees abandon the hive (abscond) in early spring despite ample honey
supplies. This can happen even late in the fall when it’s too late to
remedy the situation and making the time right for ordering package
bees and starting anew in the spring.
Courtesy of United States Department of Agriculture
217Chapter 12: Honey Bee Pests
colonies. Courtesy of United States Department of Agriculture
How to control tracheal mite problems
Tracheal mite infestations are a problem, not a hopeless fate. You can take
steps to use a number of techniques that I’ve listed in the following sections
to prevent things from getting out of control. It isn’t a case of just one tech-
nique working well. Play it safe by using a combination of some or all of these
Menthol crystals are the same ingredient found in candies and cough
drops. Menthol is derived from a plant, making it a natural alternative to
chemical miticides. Prepackaged bags containing 1.8 ounces of menthol
crystals are available from your beekeeping supplier.
Place a single packet on the top bars of the brood chamber toward the rear
of the hive (see Figure 12-8). Setting the packet on a small piece of aluminum
foil prevents the bees from chewing holes in the bag and carrying away the
menthol. Bees are tidy and try their best to remove anything they don’t think
belongs in the hive. Leave the menthol in the hive for 14 consecutive days
when the outdoor temperature is between 60 and 80 degrees F. The menthol
vapors are effective only at these temperatures. That means the product is
temperature dependent — you can only use it when the weather is warm.
Honey for human consumption must be taken off the hive whenever any medi-
cations are used. You can safely apply honey supers three to four weeks after
medication is removed from the hive.
218 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
the top bars
of the brood
Sugar and grease patties
Placing patties of sugar and grease in the hive is a holistic treatment for tra-
cheal mites that you can (and should) use year-round (even during the honey
harvest season — unless you are adding the wintergreen oil option). As the
bees feed on the sugar, they become coated with grease. The grease impairs
the mite’s ability to reproduce or latch onto the bees’ hairs. Whatever the
scientific reason, the treatment works effectively and is your number-one
natural defense against tracheal mites.
Place one patty on the top bars of the brood chamber, flattening out the
patty as needed to provide clearance for the inner cover and replacing it as
the bees consume it. One patty should last a month or more.
Here’s my recipe for grease patties:
/2 pounds of solid vegetable shortening (such as Crisco)
4 pounds of granulated sugar
/2 pound honey
Optional: Add 1
/3 cup of mineral salt (the orange/brown salt available at
farm supply stores — it’s used to feed to livestock). Pulverize the salt in a
blender, breaking it into a fine consistency. The bees seem to like it.
Mix all these ingredients together until smooth. Form into about a dozen
hamburger-size patties. Unused patties may be stored in a resealable plastic
food bag and kept frozen until ready to use.
219Chapter 12: Honey Bee Pests
Note: As an option, you may add 45 milliliters (1.5 ounces) of natural winter-
green oil to the mixture, provided that you’re not using this treatment while
honey for human consumption is on the hive.
A number of interesting studies have tested the effectiveness of using essen-
tial oils as a means of controlling mite populations. Essential oils are those
natural extracts derived from aromatic plants such as wintergreen, spear-
mint, lemon grass, and so on. These oils are available from health-food stores
and companies that sell products for making soap.
Pioneering work on the use of essential oils in honey bee hives has been
conducted by Bob Noel and Dr. Jim Amrine (West Virginia University). Their
experimentation led to discoveries about the use of natural oils in killing off
mite infestations in the hive without having any detrimental impact on the
bees. A number of different ways exist for using essential oils in the hive.
For information and links to lots of sites devoted to Varroa and tracheal mite
studies, visit Dr. Amrine’s Web site: www.wvu.edu/~agexten/Varroa.
Miteaway II (Formic acid)
Formic acid is the stuff that I mentioned earlier in this chapter as a treatment
option for Varroa mites. It also controls tracheal mites (especially when used
in autumn). But formic acid is wickedly caustic, tricky to administer, and may
not even be approved for use in your state. I don’t suggest that new beekeep-
ers use it. Gain some experience before you mess with it.
Apiguard was mentioned earlier in this chapter. It is effective against the
Varroa mite and is also active against both tracheal mite and chalkbrood. It is
easy to use and much safer than formic acid or coumaphos. As always, follow
Winter patty replacement
Feed your bees sugar and grease patties all
year round (they help control tracheal mites).
These patties have no effect on the honey you
will harvest. During the winter, on a sunny day
with no wind, have a very quick peek under the
inner cover to see if you need to replace the
patty. Chances are a patty placed on the hive
in early November will last the bees over two
to three months.
220 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
Wax moths can do large-scale damage in a weak hive (see the color sec-
tion, of this book). But they don’t usually become a problem in a strong and
healthy hive, because bees continually patrol the hive and remove any wax
moth larvae they find. If you see wax moths, therefore, you probably have a
weak colony. So keeping your bees healthy is the best defense against wax
moths. Once you have an infestation in a live colony of bees, there is nothing
you can do to get rid of them. It’s too late.
Honey B Healthy
An all-natural product on the market that’s well
worth mentioning is Honey B Healthy. It con-
tains pure essential oils (spearmint and lemon
grass oils) and is sold as a concentrated food
supplement (see figure that follows) that’s
added to the sugar syrup you feed your bees
in the spring and autumn. It was developed by
Bob Noel and Jim Amrine, pioneers in the use
of essential oils to control mite infestations. The
manufacturers make no claims about Honey B
Healthy’s ability to kill mites, but field tests indi-
cate that this product keeps bees healthy and
strong even in the presence of Varroa and tra-
cheal mites. I use it religiously, and urge you
to give it a try. For more information about the
product, visit www.bee-commerce.com.
221Chapter 12: Honey Bee Pests
The story is different when comb is stored for winter. With no bees to protect
these combs, the wax is highly susceptible to invasion by wax moths. But in
this case, steps can be taken to keep the moths from destroying the combs
over the winter. The use of PDB crystals (para dichlorobenzene) on stored
supers and hive bodies can kill the moths and larvae that would otherwise
destroy the wax (see Chapter 15 for more details).
Small Hive Beetle
More bad news for bees — besides the Africanized Honey Bees (AHB; see
Chapter 9) — came in 1998 when the small hive beetle was discovered in
Florida. Most common beetles that wander in and out of a hive are not a
problem, so don’t panic if you see some. But the small hive beetle, also origi-
nally from Africa, is an exception. The larvae of this beetle eat wax, pollen,
honey, bee brood, and eggs. In other words, they gobble up nearly everything
in sight. The beetles also — yuck! — defecate in the bees’ honey, causing it
to ferment and ooze out of the comb. Things can get so nasty that the entire
colony may pack up and leave. Who can blame them?
Determining whether you have
a small hive beetle problem
Be on the lookout for little black or dark brown beetles scurrying across
combs or along the inner cover and bottom board (see Figure 12-9). You may
even notice the creamy larvae on the combs and bottom board.
(mostly in the
Courtesy of Bee Culture Magazine
222 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
How to control the small hive beetle
First of all, keeping your colonies strong and healthy is your best natural
defense. In addition, you need to destroy any small beetles you see during
routine inspections. If infestation levels appear heavy, medicating your hive
may be necessary. Presently one approved treatment for the small hive
beetle is coumaphos (sold under the brand name of CheckMite+).
If you suspect that you have the small hive beetle, contact your state apiary
inspector. It’s important that you do your part to keep this new pest from
spreading all across the country. The inspector will let you know what
kinds of treatments are legal in your state. They might even help you with
Ants, Ants, and More Ants
Ants can be a nuisance to bees. A few ants here and there are normal, and a
healthy colony keeps the ant population under control. But every now and
then things can get out of hand, particularly when the hive is too young or
too weak to control the ant population. Sometimes simply more ants are
around than the colony can handle. When ants overrun a colony, the bees
may abscond (leave the hive). But you can take steps to control the ant popu-
lation before it becomes a crisis. Two things that you can do if you notice
more than a few dozen ants in the hive are
✓ Sending cinnamon to the rescue: Purchase a large container of ground
cinnamon from a restaurant supply company. Sprinkle the cinnamon lib-
erally on the ground around the hive. Sprinkle some on the inner cover.
Your hive will smell like a giant breakfast doughnut. Yummy! The bees
don’t mind, but the ants don’t like it and stay away. Remember to reap-
ply the spice after the rain washes it away.
Small hive beetle trap
In the spirit of integrated hive management (see
Chapter 10), here’s a nonchemical means for
controlling the population of small hive beetles
(a problem in southern states). This two-piece
plastic trap sits on the existing bottom board.
There are perforations in the top piece, and
the bottom tray is filled with vegetable oil. A
wooden shim provides the proper spacing at
the entrance. The bees will chase the beetles as
they enter the hive, causing the beetles to seek
a hiding spot. As they retreat through the holes
of the trap, they fall into the oil and drown.
223Chapter 12: Honey Bee Pests
✓ Creating a moat of oil: This technique is a useful defense against ants.
You’ll need a hive stand with legs. (This is a good idea even if you don’t
have an ant problem, because raising the hive off the ground is a back-
saver for you!). Place each of the stand’s four legs in a tin can — old tuna
cans are fine. Fill the cans with motor oil. Old or new oil . . . it doesn’t
matter which you use. The ants won’t be able to cross the “moat” of oil
and thus are unable to crawl up into the hive (see Figure 12-10). You
may need to replenish the oil after heavy rains.
legs of your
in cans of
Do bears like honey? Indeed they do! And they simply crave the sweet honey
bee brood. (I’ve never tried it myself, but I suspect it’s sweet.) If bears are
active in your area (they’re in many states within the continental United
States), taking steps to protect your hive from these lumbering marauders
is a necessity. If they catch a whiff of your hive, they can do spectacular and
heartbreaking damage, smashing apart the hive and scattering frames and
supers far and wide (see Figure 12-11). What a tragedy to lose your bees in
such a violent way. Worse yet, you can be certain that once they’ve discov-
ered your bees, they’ll be back, hoping for a second helping.
The only really effective defense against these huge beasts is installing an elec-
tric fence around your apiary. Anything short of this just won’t do the trick.
224 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
If you’re ever unlucky enough to lose your bees to bears, be sure to contact
your state or local conservation department. You may qualify for remunera-
tion for the loss of your bees. And the department may provide financial assis-
tance for the installation of an electric fence.
by a hungry
Courtesy of Bee Culture Magazine
Raccoons and Skunks
Raccoons are clever animals. They easily figure out how to remove the hive’s
top to get at the tasty treats inside. Placing a heavy rock on the hive’s outer
cover is a simple solution to a pesky raccoon problem.
Skunks are insect eaters by nature. When they find insects that have a
sweet drop of honey in the center . . . bonanza! Skunks and their families
visit the hive at night and scratch at the entrance until bees come out to
investigate. When they do . . . they’re snatched up by the skunk and . . .
gulp! Skunks can put away quite a few bees during an evening’s banquet.
In time they can decimate your colony. These raids also make your bees
decidedly more irritable and difficult to work with. You need to put a quick
end to skunk invasions.
225Chapter 12: Honey Bee Pests
Putting your hive on an elevated stand is an effective solution for skunk
invasions. The skunk then must stand on his hind legs to reach the hive’s
entrance. That exposes his tender underbelly to the bees — and have no
doubts, the bees know what to do next!
You may wonder how the bees feel about skunk scent and whether or not it
bothers them. I can’t really give you a good answer to this: My bees have
never told me how they feel about the smell, nor do I think I’ve ever known a
skunk to spray a hive. But my dog has some stories to tell!
Another solution is hammering a bunch of nails through a plank of plywood
(about two-feet square) and placing it in front of the hive with the nail points
sticking up. Like a bed of nails. No more skunks. Just be sure you remember
the plank’s there when you go stomping around the hive!
Keeping Out Mrs. Mouse
When the nighttime weather starts turning colder in early autumn, mice start
looking for appropriate winter nesting sites. A toasty warm hive is a desirable
option. The mouse may briefly visit the hive on a cool night when bees are
in a loose cluster. During these exploratory visits the mouse marks the hive
with urine so she can find it later on. When winter draws nearer, the mouse
returns to the marked hive and builds her nest for the winter.
I can assure you that you don’t want this to happen. Mice do extensive
damage in a hive during the winter. They don’t directly harm the bees, but
they destroy comb and foundation and generally make a big mess. They usu-
ally leave the hive in early spring, long before the bees break winter cluster
and chase them out or sting them to death (see Chapter 2 for the morbid
consequences of getting caught). Nesting mice isn’t the surprise you want to
discover during your early spring inspection. Anticipate mouse problems and
take these simple steps to prevent them from taking up winter residence in
1. As part of winterizing your hive, use a long stick or a wire coat hanger
to “sweep” the floor of the bottom board, making sure that no mouse
already has taken up residence. Shoo them out if they have.
2. When you’re sure your furry friends are not at home, secure a metal
mouse guard along the entrance of the hive (see Figure 12-12). This
metal device enables bees to come to and fro and provides ample winter
ventilation, but the mouse guard’s openings are too small for Mrs.
Mouse to slip through.
226 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
The early use of mouse guards pays dividends. Mama mouse makes
early visits to the hive (when the weather is still mild) looking for a suit-
able home for the winter. She will “scent” the inside of the hive at night
when the bees are inactive, and then will return in the cooler weather to
take up winter residence. So don’t delay getting those guards on before
she makes her rounds.
Using a wooden entrance reducer as a mouse guard doesn’t work. The
mouse nibbles away at the wood and makes the opening just big enough
to slip through.
Some Birds Have a Taste for Bees
If you think you notice birds swooping at your bees and eating them, you may
be right. Some birds have a taste for bees and gobble them up as bees fly
in and out of the hive. But don’t be alarmed. The number of bees that you’ll
lose to birds probably is modest compared to the hive’s total population. No
action need be taken. You’re just witnessing nature’s balancing act.
Table 12-1 provides treatment options for the various pests mentioned in this
227Chapter 12: Honey Bee Pests
Table 12-1 Solutions to Common Pest Problems
Pest Problem Solution(s) Comments
Varroa mites Apistan (fluvalinate)
Honey B Healthy
Alternate your treatments to
prevent the mites from building a
resistance to the miticide
Apiguard and Honey B Healthy use
natural (non harsh) ingredients
Tracheal mites Grease patties
Honey B Healthy
All of these options use natural
(non harsh) ingredients
Wax moths PDB crystals (para
Applied only to empty supers and
Reapply as needed after rain
Skunks Elevated hive stand
Bed of nails
Also easy on your back!
Watch your step!
Racoons Heavy rock on outer
Avoid using entrance feeders as
they attract unwanted visitors
Bears Electric fence around
Some states offer financial
compensation for bear fence
Mice Metal mouse guard
placed at hive entrance
Install guards before the cold
228 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
In This Chapter
▶ Understanding the benefits of raising your own queens
▶ Knowing what equipment you will need
▶ Looking at different methods
▶ Selling your queens
▶ Performing seasonal chores
Special thanks to my friend and EAS Master Beekeeper Leslie Huston for her
help preparing this chapter.
In this chapter I introduce you to different methods for raising your own
queens. The process can be fairly involved, but once you are familiar with
some basic concepts you’ll be on your way to success.
Several books have been written on this topic alone, and I recommend you
do some further reading if you want to pursue this fascinating component of
beekeeping. I cover some of the fundamentals and a couple of “easy” meth-
ods to get your feet wet.
Why Raising Queens Is the Bee’s Knees
Some colonies are particularly delightful to work with. Nice temperament,
healthy bees, great honey producers, and resilient enough to survive winter.
This is the kind of colony that’s a pleasure to be around. It’s the queen who
possesses the genetics that provide the colony with these desirable traits.
When you raise your own queens, you can avoid “imported” problems. Every
time you bring bees into your apiary from other sources, you run the risk of
bringing unwanted “hitchhikers” along — like the small hive beetle, American
foulbrood, and Africanized honey bees just to name a few. Once established,
these troubles can be difficult to get rid of.
230 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
Raising genetically strong queens that produce healthy colonies can help
you avoid the multitude of worries and problems currently facing honey bees
(including Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD — see Chapter 10). Robust colo-
nies are resistant to pests, chemicals, and diseases.
And here’s the best part. Raising queens is fun! You’ll experience a whole
new dimension of these fascinating insects. And you’ll feel so proud when
you hold your homegrown queen in your hand.
Sure you will encounter some challenges, but they will help you grow as a
beekeeper. Queen-rearing will put you in better touch with the overall health
and well-being of all your bees. Even if you don’t make queen-rearing a per-
manent part of your beekeeping repertoire, by trying it you’ll begin to appre-
ciate what makes a good queen and what to look for when shopping for one.
You can raise as few or as many queens as you like. I suggest that you raise
just enough to provide yourself with great queens to start, rather than enough
queens to sell. Then, if you want, kick things up a notch and raise queens that
you can sell to other beekeepers. Your carefully raised, local stock will likely
be a big hit with other beekeepers in your neighborhood.
There is a subtle but important difference. Queen rearing is the process of
making queen bees. There are a number of methods for queen rearing. I’ll
cover the general principles here and describe in some detail a couple of the
most popular methods. Queen breeding is the act of identifying and selecting
queens from superior colonies to use as the parents of subsequent genera-
tions. This genetic selection will result in a greater tendency for subsequent
generations to exhibit the traits for which you select. Using gentleness as
an example: Selecting queens from gentle colonies to raise new queens will
result in new colonies that will be gentler than if you had not done that care-
ful selection. In this way, queen rearing and queen breeding are separate yet
Accentuate the Positive
With bees, just like all plants and animals, traits are passed from one genera-
tion to the next. Good and bad. With respect to livestock (and your bees are
considered livestock) it is common to select from your “herd” to retain the
best traits and minimize or eliminate the worst. This is how the many differ-
ent dog breeds came into existence, and it has also shaped the characteris-
tics of our chickens, cows, corn, and so on.
In order to breed better bees, you need one or more mothers and a whole
lot of fathers. So there are two types of colonies you will select to be your
231Chapter 13: Raising Your Own Queens
✓ Queen mother colony: Your very best colony and the queen that rules
it is the one to use to raise more queens. This queen is called the “queen
✓ Drone mother colony: Wherever you plan to allow your queens to do
their mating, you will want to have the most desirable drone (male bee)
stock available. You don’t want drones from sub-par colonies contribut-
ing their poor genetics to your fine queens. Unless you live in an area
where you can guarantee isolation, you will be unable to control the
drone gene pool completely. But you can stack the deck in your favor
by doing your best to saturate the area with lots of healthy drones from
colonies with desirable traits.
No matter how you go about raising queens, provide your queen-rearing
operation with every advantage. Go easy on the chemical treatments, and
make sure they have plenty of honey and pollen.
Whether you are selecting a queen mother or a drone mother, there are cer-
tain traits you will want to consider. Some traits are more hereditary than
others. In the case of honey bees, here are some of the most desirable traits
to look for when selecting colonies for your breeding project:
✓ Gentleness: Gentleness is a great trait for bees to have — no beekeeper
wants to be stung. It is a very hereditary trait. You can test a colony for
gentleness by vigorously waving a wand with a black leather patch at
the end over an open hive. This will alarm the bees, and they may rush
up to sting the leather patch. After a minute or so, count the stingers
on the patch. The colonies with the fewest stingers in the patch are the
✓ Resistance to disease and pests: Bee breeders and commercial queen
producers are making progress with breeding bees that are resistant
or more tolerant to disease (for more on bee diseases, see Chapter 11).
You can do this as well by identifying those colonies that are the most
robust and require the least treatment. You will want to raise queens
using stock from these “star” colonies. Honey bees are very responsive
to selection, and in just a few seasons you can influence the overall
health of your bees.
✓ Hardiness: Winter hardiness is especially important to beekeepers in cli-
mates that have long, cold winters. If you live in a climate where winter’s
deep freeze lasts ten to 12 weeks or more, then you may regard winter
as the enemy, at least as far as your bees’ survival goes. Colonies that
survive a long cold spell must be healthy and strong. They must pro-
duce and store enough honey to fuel their winter hunker-down. And they
should slow down their brood rearing in the fall efficiently, and start up
in the spring in time to have their numbers grow to take advantage of
the spring nectar flow. It takes a healthy, well-run, well-rounded colony
to survive a northern winter. These are traits you would like all of your
colonies to have.
232 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
✓ Productivity: Some say you can’t really select for honey production
when breeding queens because there are too many other factors, such
as the weather (if it doesn’t rain, then there are fewer flowers, and
honey production will be low). So while honey production may be more
a function of environment than genetics, if one of your colonies consis-
tently produces more honey than another, consider that colony’s queen
What Makes a Queen a Queen
All bees are essentially created equal, to start. The queen develops from a
fertilized egg, just the same as the workers do. For the first two to three days,
the fertilized egg of the bee destined to be a queen hatches into a young
larva, just as with worker bees. But after the egg hatches into a young larva, it
becomes decision time. A larva that goes down the road to “queendom” con-
tinues to receive a plentiful supply of rich royal jelly. And only royal jelly. But
larvae that will become workers are switched to a nourishing, but coarser
diet of honey and pollen. See Chapter 2 for more the life cycle of bees.
Because of these differences, you’ll need to get familiar with some basic bee
biology to raise queens. Here are some of the more important differences
between queen bees and workers and drones:
✓ A queen takes just 16 days to develop. (A worker takes 21, and a drone
takes 24). Here’s how the queen’s development proceeds:
• Day 1–3: Egg
• Day 4: Larva of suitable age to become a queen (rather than a
• Days 4–9: Larva with cell open, being fed by nurse bees
• Days 12–14: Queen cell is capped, the developing queen (pupa)
inside the cell is very fragile
• Days 14–16: The developing queen is less fragile (she can be
moved to queenless nuc)
• Day 16: The queen emerges from her cell
✓ All queens and workers are developed from fertilized eggs and possess a
full set of chromosomes and have a complete genetic makeup (a mother
✓ The drone develops from an unfertilized egg. He has half the full set of
chromosomes (a mother, but no father).
233Chapter 13: Raising Your Own Queens
How do they mate?
It’s important to understand how honey bees mate, so that you can do your
best to provide optimal conditions and know how circumstances such as
weather can impact your queen-rearing operation. The queen bee has some
interesting mating habits:
✓ Queen bees mate in the air. The drones fly out of their colonies and
gather at a place called a drone congregation area. The virgin queens
seem to know where these areas are, and make a “bee-line” there in
order to mate. Here a number of drones mate with the virgin, and drop-
dead afterward (see Chapter 2 for more).
✓ A virgin queen will take one or more mating flights over the course
of a few days or a week. Then she’s done mating for her lifetime. The
sperm (from the drone) is stored in a special, tiny ball in the queen’s
abdomen called the spermatheca. It is supplied with nutrients to keep
the sperm alive for as long as the queen remains productive.
✓ Because queens mate with a number of drones, a honey bee colony is
a collection of “sub-families”. All the bees in the colony have the same
mother (the queen). But some workers will be full sisters (having the same
mother and father) and some will be half-sisters (having the same mother
but different fathers). This genetic diversity is critical to having thriving,
healthy colonies with a variety of traits that help the bees survive.
✓ If for some reason a virgin is prevented from mating, there will come
a time when she will stop trying to mate and will begin laying eggs.
However, none of these eggs will be fertilized so they will all result in
A virgin queen takes a few days to mature — her wings expand and dry,
her glands mature, and so on. Then a few days more to fly and mate, and
a few days more to settle down to laying eggs. Allow two or three weeks
from emergence to the time when she will begin laying eggs.
Creating Demand: Making
a Queenless Nuc
A nuc, or nucleus colony is a small community of bees. Most common are nucs of
four or five frames. A queenless nuc is a small colony of bees without a queen. If
a colony does not have a queen, the bees will try to make one from any available
larvae of the right age (four days after the egg was laid). A queenless nuc will
also be very receptive to a newly introduced virgin or mated queen. Queenless
nucs should be made up a day or two before they are needed — so that the bees
will have time to realize that they no longer have a queen. Queenless nucs are
used for starting queen cells, and also for receiving queens — virgin or mated.
234 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
Here’s how to create a queenless nuc.
1. Place frames of capped brood, honey, and pollen into the nuc hive
body. The frames should be covered with worker bees and come from
a healthy hive.
Make 100-percent certain there is no queen on these frames — just
workers (an occasional drone is okay). There should be as little open
brood as possible.
2. Wait a day or two before introducing a frame of eggs, or a frame of
grafted larvae, or a queen (virgin or mated).
Queen Rearing: The Miller Method
The Miller Method is a queen-rearing process that requires no special equip-
ment and is perfect for the backyard beekeeper who just wants to raise a few
Here’s how it works:
1. First, take a deep frame with wax foundation and cut the bottom edge
of the foundation into a saw tooth pattern (see Figure 13-1). If the wax
has wires in it, you’ll need to snip a few of them, or work around them.
of the wax
235Chapter 13: Raising Your Own Queens
The size of frame you use is not that critical. Most queen-rearing bee-
keepers use the same size frame used in their brood box. For most folks
this would be a deep frame, although some beekeepers standardize on
medium depth frames for both brood and honey.
2. Place the frame with the “saw tooth” foundation in the center of
your queen mother colony (the strongest, hardiest, most productive
and gentlest). Let the bees draw it out into comb. Consider feeding the
colony some syrup to get them making wax.
3. After a week, have a peek every few days. At some point, the queen
will start laying eggs in this new comb. When the cells along the saw-
toothed margins have eggs, it’s time to set up a queenless nuc that will
build and raise the queen cells.
4. The day after setting up the queenless nuc, insert the saw-tooth frame
of eggs into the center. Overnight the bees will have become very aware
that they have no queen. They will be ever-so-ready to receive a frame
containing just what they need to raise some queens: eggs. If all goes
well, the bees will build a number of queen cells along the jagged edge.
5. In a week’s time, have a look and see what the bees have made.
Hopefully, the bees will have built several queen cells in different spots
along the jagged edge.
In a few more days, come back and see how the queen cells are develop-
ing. Later, you will separate them by cutting them apart. But for now,
just look and see what you’ve got to work with. If some of the cells are
too close to cut apart, then plan to leave them together and put that
clump in a queenless nuc. If the bees have managed to raise any queen
cells on other frames, you should destroy them. They’re not from
your carefully chosen queen mother, and you want the bees’ attention
focused on raising the daughters of that favored queen, not their
6. Make up an additional queenless nuc for each queen cell (or clumps
of cells) that you saw in Step 5.
7. A few days before the queens are due to emerge, go back and remove
the frame containing the queen cells.
Cut the cells apart carefully to put into the waiting queenless nucs (see
Figure 13-2). When you cut the comb, take plenty of comb around each
cell or clump of cells — give yourself a hefty handle, even if it means
cutting into other brood cells. Don’t dent or deform the queen cell in the
least little bit — the developing queen inside is extremely fragile. Also,
don’t tip the cells or jostle them, for the same reason.
Be sure to move those queen cells to the queenless nucs before the
queens emerge. If you don’t, the first queen to emerge will kill all the
other queens she can find! A sad ending.
236 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
onto a frame
in a waiting
237Chapter 13: Raising Your Own Queens
8. Distribute the queen cells to the queenless nucs.
Remove a central frame from each queenless nuc and carefully press the
comb handle attached to the cells into the comb of this frame. Be very
careful as you slide the frame back into the hive. Not denting the queen
cell is of paramount importance.
9. A day or two after “emergence day” (16 days after the egg was laid),
check to see that each queen did emerge from her cell.
You’ll see the queen cell with a round opening on the bottom. You might
be able to find her walking around on one of the frames. Then again, you
may not. A virgin queen is often on the small side, not much larger than
a worker (she’ll plump up after she mates). If you don’t find her, don’t
worry. A virgin emerging from a cell into a queenless colony is very
likely to be accepted — hey, she’s the only game in town.
Bees found on frames of open brood (not capped) are typically nurse bees.
You can ensure that your queenless nuc has lots of nurse bees by shaking
or brushing the bees off frames of open brood and into your queenless nuc.
Just make sure you don’t shake off or brush a queen into the nuc! Return the
brood frame to the colony it came from.
238 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
The Doolittle Method: Grafting
With the Miller Method you can raise a few queens at a time, but there are
other methods that allow you to ramp up production and turn out dozens of
high-quality queens. Raising larger numbers of queens is more challenging.
But you might find a market for your lovely queens among beekeepers in
your area. Whatever the market is charging for queens, you can charge, too.
Feel free to charge more if you think you have some hot property. Right now,
queens sell for around $20 to $25 each.
The most common method of producing large numbers of queens is by graft-
ing larvae of the right age into special wax or plastic queen cell cups that
are affixed to bars. The bars are positioned in frames, and the frames are
inserted into a queenless nuc equipped with lots of nurse bees and lots of
provisions such as honey (and/or syrup) and pollen (and/or pollen patties).
Tools and equipment
Grafting requires some special equipment and supplies. All are available
from most beekeeping suppliers. If you’re a gadget lover, grafting has a lot
✓ Cell bar frames: These are frames that, instead of containing founda-
tion, contain one or more bars that hold plastic or wax queen cups into
which larvae are grafted. The frame is then inserted into a queenless
colony where queen cells will be raised. See Figure 13-5.
A cell bar
239Chapter 13: Raising Your Own Queens
✓ Grafting tools: You use grafting tools (see Figure 13-6) to lift the delicate
and oh-so-fragile larva out of its original cell and place it gently in the
cup on the cell bar frame. There are many different kinds of grafting
tools, and each beekeeper develops his or her own preference.
✓ Queen cell protectors: Cell protectors are cage-like cylinders that are
placed around the developing queen cells once they are capped (see
Figure 13-7). The cell protectors keep the newly emerged virgin queens
confined, preventing them from being able to move about the colony
and kill the other queens. The perforations in the “cage” allow surround-
ing worker bees to feed and care for the new virgin queens.
240 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
✓ Queen cages: These are designed to confine the queen and provide, via
screen or perforations, a way for the bees on the outside of the cage to
feed the queen inside. Queen cages also have a place that can be filled
with a fondant or candy plug, which will be eaten by the bees and allow
the queen to be released after sufficient time has passed to have her
accepted by the colony.
How it’s done
There are steps leading up to grafting day, and steps following grafting day.
As with the Miller Method, you select the colony headed by your best queen
✓ Four days before grafting day: The eggs you’ll want to graft are laid four
days before grafting day. To make it easier to locate the right-age larva,
confine the queen on a frame of empty drawn comb four days ahead
of grafting day. Use that comb when transferring larvae to cell cups. A
“push-in” cage is the perfect tool for restricting a laying queen to a clus-
ter of empty cells. See Figure 13-8.
just a few
eggs laid in
are the ones
want to use
241Chapter 13: Raising Your Own Queens
✓ Three days before grafting day: Release the queen from confinement by
removing the push-in cage. Having laid eggs in these cells, the queen’s
job is done. She can be allowed to roam the colony and continue laying
eggs at will. You will want to keep track of where those larvae are —
they are the ones that will be the right age for grafting. Mark the frame’s
top bar so that you can retrieve that frame come grafting day.
✓ Two days before grafting day: Create your queenless nuc to serve as a
cell starter. You want to put your freshly grafted larvae into an environ-
ment where they’ll be well cared for. This means lots of bees (especially
lots of nurse bees), frames of honey, pollen (and/or a feeder and a pollen
patty), and little or no open brood. You want lots of nurse bees because
they are the ones most geared to feeding larvae.
✓ Grafting day: Using the frame you confined four days ago, graft larvae
into cell cups and place the frame of cells into the queenless cell starter
that you made up a couple of days ago. Grafting is a delicate maneuver,
and the very young larvae are exceedingly fragile. See Figure 13-9.
A larva that is bruised or handled too much is unlikely to survive and
be accepted by the bees. In order to achieve successful grafting, be
prepared to try various grafting tools, different positions (for you and
for the frame of larvae), different lighting, and perhaps some magnifica-
tion. Try a few different tools, and give yourself time and a lot of practice
to get it right. You may have poor acceptance your first few rounds of
grafting, but keep trying.
242 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
The larva breathes through small openings on one side of its body —
the side exposed to the air. If the larva is flipped when transferred to the
cell cup, it will not be able to breathe.
✓ One or two days after grafting day: Have a peek. The bees have decided
which cells they’re going to feed and draw and develop into queens, and
which they are not.
✓ A week or so after grafting day: Check the cells and put cell protectors
on them. The cells should be capped by the bees four or five days after
grafting, so the only care they need from here until emergence is warmth
and humidity. The cell protectors will keep the virgin queens separated
from each other — if they are left to emerge into the colony, the first
queen out will kill all of the other queens.
While you’re in the cell builder, give the other frames a look and remove
any “rogue” queen cells elsewhere in the hive that the bees may have
built. If one of them emerges, she’ll kill all the other queens.
Virgin queens will emerge 15 to 17 days after the egg is laid (11 to 13 days
after grafting). The average development time is 16 days, but development is
faster in warmer weather, and slower in cooler temperatures.
Providing nuptial housing
Virgin queens are often given temporary housing until they mate. Mating
nucs for your virgins can be regular-sized hives or nucs, but if you’re raising
a lot of queens that can be quite demanding in terms of bees, equipment, and
real estate. There are small units, called mini-mating nucs or pee wees, that
hold just a couple of cups of bees, a few miniature frames, and a small food
reservoir (Figure 13-10). These downsized colonies take up far less space and
demand fewer bees less food to support the virgin while she matures and
mates. With mini mating nucs, you can place a bunch of nucs in a compara-
tively small area. Checking these smaller units is quicker and easier, too. But
be careful, in midsummer when nectar falls off, it can be hard to keep these
tiny communities fed.
After the queens have emerged safely into their cell protectors, you can
transfer them to queen cages (with candy plugs). Then introduce the caged
queens into their own mating nuc (one queen per nuc), letting the bees slow-
release the queens by chewing through the candy plug.
Be patient. Allow two to three weeks for a virgin queen to mate and begin
243Chapter 13: Raising Your Own Queens
tional nuc or
just a few
and its own
it’s the per-
fect size for
Finding a Home for Your Queens
Now that you have queens, what do you do with them? Where do they live?
You have a number of options:
✓ Queen cages and battery boxes: Your queens can be kept for a few days
in a cage with attendants. Use a clean eye-dropper to feed them a single
drop of water once or twice a day.
✓ Queen banks: A queen bank is a regular, queen-right colony with a
queen excluder keeping the colony’s resident queen separate from the
upper hive body. In the upper hive body, caged queens are held in a
special rack that takes the place of one of the frames.
Queen-right: A queen-right colony is one that has a laying queen.
When queens are in the bank, help ensure that they’re surrounded by nurse
bees by periodically (weekly) moving frames of young, open brood from the
lower portion up to the bank portion. Examine the frames carefully as you
move them up — be careful not to move the queen from the lower portion up
to the queen bank portion! If nectar is scarce, feed the queen bank with sugar
syrup using whatever kind of feeder you prefer.
244 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
You can store mated queens for days or a few weeks in a queen bank. However,
the sooner they get out and start laying eggs, the better off they’ll be. They’re
meant to be roaming comb among a population and laying eggs. Confinement
is hard on them, so get them out into a colony as soon as possible.
The Queen Breeder’s Calendar
Spring: This is swarming season and an ideal time to raise queens. The bees
are in full gear to do it: build comb and raise and accept new queens. And the
nectar and pollen are plentiful. Keep an eye on your drone mother colonies.
When drone cells are emerging, start actively rearing queens. The drones
will be mature and ready for mating by the time your virgins are out on their
Summer: Keep on raising queens. Be aware that as nectar flow diminishes,
the colonies will need feeding. In late summer especially, feeding is neces-
sary not only to keep the smaller nucleus colonies afloat, but to aid in queen
Fall: Queen-rearing is done. Time to get nucs settled and ready for winter.
Consider using a side-by-side nuc that can house two queens.
Winter: Now’s a good time to read and make plans for the coming season.
You can set up some nucleus colonies for your new queens and overwinter
them by setting them on top of other, full-size colonies. This is especially
helpful in cooler, northern climates. Heat rises and the full size colonies will
help keep the nucs warm. The following spring, these over-wintered nucs will
have young queens that can be used to re-populate colonies that die over the
wintertime. Or you can grow these nucs into full-sized colonies.
Over-wintering nucs does require some special equipment: a split bottom
board and a hive body divider of some kind (a division board and/or a divi-
Then all that remains is to review your queen-rearing, as you do with the rest
of your beekeeping. Make notes on what worked and what needs improving
and make plans for next season.
245Chapter 13: Raising Your Own Queens
Marking and Wing-Clipping
It’s a good idea to mark your mated queens. Beekeeping suppliers often sell
queen marking pens, or you can buy similar pens at an art supply store (just
be careful to get water-based, permanent paint pens). An international queen
marking color code has been established to track the age of a given queen:
For years ending with Mark with this color
0 or 5 Blue
1 or 6 White
2 or 7 Yellow
3 or 8 Red
4 or 9 Green
246 Part IV: Common Problems and Simple Solutions
In this part . . .
These chapters deal with the sweet rewards of bee-
keeping. I give you a step-by-step approach for har-
vesting, bottling, and marketing your honey. I also tell you
about other valuable products that you can harvest from
In This Chapter
▶ Deciding what kind of honey you want
▶ Selecting the best tools for the job
▶ Planning your workspace
▶ Packaging and marketing your honey
It all comes down to honey. That’s why most people keep bees. For eons
honey has been highly regarded as a valuable commodity. And why not?
No purer food exists in the world. It’s easily digestible, a powerful source of
energy, and simply delicious. In many countries, honey even is used for its
medicinal properties. The honey bee is the only insect that manufactures a
food that we eat. And we eat a lot of it — more than 1 million tons are con-
sumed worldwide each year.
What a thrill it is to bottle your first harvest! You’ll swear that you’ve never
had honey that tastes as good as your own. And you’re probably right.
Commercial honey can’t compare to homegrown. Most supermarket honey
has been blended, cooked, and ultrafiltered. Yours will be just the way the
bees made it, and packed with aroma and flavor. I’m getting hungry just
thinking about it.
In this chapter I’ll help you plan for the big day — your first honey harvest.
You’ll need to consider the type of honey you want to produce, the tools
you’ll need, the amount of preparation you’ll have to do, and what you’ll need
for marketing. So let’s get started.
250 Part V: Sweet Rewards
Having Realistic Expectations
In your first year, don’t expect too much of a honey harvest. Sorry, but a
newly established colony doesn’t have the benefit of a full season of foraging.
Nor has it had an opportunity to build its maximum population. I know that’s
disappointing news. But be patient. Next year will be a bonanza!
Beekeeping is like farming. The actual yield depends upon the weather.
Many warm, sunny days with ample rain results in more flowers and greater
nectar flows. When gardens flourish, so do bees. If Mother Nature works in
your favor, a hive can produce 60 to 100 pounds of surplus honey (that’s the
honey you can take from the bees), or more. If you live in a warm climate
(like Florida or Southern California) you can expect multiple harvests each
year. But remember that your bees need you to leave some honey for their
own use. In cold climates leave them 60 pounds, in climates with no winter,
leave 20 to 30 pounds.
For a hive to produce that much surplus honey is amazing when you consider
that honey bees fly more than 50,000 miles and visit more than 2 million flow-
ers to gather enough nectar to make a pound of honey.
What Flavor Do You Want?
The flavor of honey your bees make is likely more up to the bees than you.
You certainly can’t tell them which flowers to visit. See Chapter 3 for a dis-
cussion of where to locate your hive when you want a particular flavor of
Unless you put your hives on a farm with acres of specific flowering plants,
your bees will collect myriad nectars from many different flowers, which
results in a delicious honey that’s a blend of the many flowers in your area.
Your honey can be classified as wildflower honey. Note also that eating such
honey is an effective way to fend off local pollen allergies — a natural way of
inoculating yourself. See Chapter 3 for more information on different kinds of
Then you need to decide what style of honey you want to package, because
that influences some of the equipment that you use.
251Chapter 14: Getting Ready for the Golden Harvest
Choosing Extracted, Comb, Chunk,
or Whipped Honey
What style of honey do you plan to harvest? You have several different
options. Each impacts what kind of honey harvesting equipment you pur-
chase, because specific types of honey can be collected only by using spe-
cific tools and honey-gathering equipment. If you have more than one hive,
you can designate each hive to produce a different style of honey. Now that
sounds like fun!
Honey never should be refrigerated, because cold temperatures accelerate
crystallization. In time, however, nearly all honeys form granulated crystals,
regardless of the temperature. Crystallized honey can be easily liquefied by
placing the jar in warm water, or by gently heating in the microwave for a
couple of minutes.
Extracted honey is by far the most popular style of honey consumed in
the United States. Wax cappings are sliced off the honeycomb, and liquid
honey is removed (extracted) from the cells by centrifugal force. The honey
is strained and then put in containers. The beekeeper needs an uncapping
knife, extractor (spinner), and some kind of sieve to strain out the bits of wax
and the occasional sticky bee.
Comb honey is honey just as the bees made it . . . still in the comb.
Encouraging bees to make this kind of honey is a bit tricky. You need a very
strong nectar flow to get the bees going. Watch for many warm sunny days and
just the right amount of rain to produce a bounty of flowering plants. But har-
vesting comb honey is less time consuming than harvesting extracted honey.
You simply remove the entire honeycomb and package it. You eat the whole
thing: the wax and honey. It’s all edible! A number of nifty products facilitate
the production of comb honey (but more on that later in this chapter).
252 Part V: Sweet Rewards
Sometimes called cut comb, chunk honey refers to chunks of honeycomb that
are placed in a wide-mouthed bottle and then filled with extracted liquid honey.
Also called creamed honey, creamed honey, spun honey, churned honey, can-
died honey, or honey fondant, whipped honey is a semisolid style of honey
that’s popular in Europe. In time, all honey naturally forms coarse granules
or crystals. By controlling the crystallization process you can produce fine
crystals and create a smooth, spreadable product.
Whipping up whipped honey: The Dyce Method
The Dyce Method is a process used to control
the crystallization of honey. It was developed
and patented by Elton J. Dyce in 1935. The pro-
cess (described here) results in a nice, smooth
✓ Heat honey to 120 degrees F (use a candy
thermometer — accuracy is important).
This kills yeast cells that always are pres-
ent in honey. Yeast causes fermentation,
and its presence can inhibit a successful
result when making whipped honey. Stir
the honey gently and constantly to avoid
overheating. Be careful not to introduce air
✓ Using a two-fold thickness of cheesecloth
as a strainer, strain honey to remove for-
eign material and wax.
✓ Heat honey again, this time to 150 degrees
F. Don’t forget to stir continuously.
✓ Strain honey another time to remove all vis-
ible particles. Again, you can use a two-fold
thickness of cheesecloth as a strainer.
✓ Cool honey as rapidly as possible. You can
Stir gently as honey cools. Continue cooling
until the temperature of the honey reaches
75 degrees F.
✓ Add some finely crystallized honey to pro-
mote a controlled crystallization of your
whipped honey — it’s kind of like adding
a special yeast culture when making sour-
dough bread. Introduce these seed crys-
tals by adding 10 percent (by weight) of
processed granulated honey. Granulated
honey is processed by breaking down any
coarse crystals into finely granulated crys-
tals. This can be accomplished by fractur-
ing the crystallized honey in a meat grinder
or a food processor.
✓ Place mixture in a cool room (57 degrees F).
Complete crystallization occurs in about a
✓ After a week, run mixture through the
grinder (or food processor) one more time
to break up any newly formed crystals.
✓ Bottle and store in a cool dry room.
(Information courtesy of National Honey
253Chapter 14: Getting Ready for the Golden Harvest
Granulated honey is honey that has formed sugar crystals. You make whipped
honey by blending nine parts of extracted liquid honey with one part of finely
granulated (crystallized) honey. The resulting consistency of whipped honey
is thick, ultrasmooth, and can be spread on toast like butter. Making it takes a
fair amount of work, but it’s worth it!
The Right Equipment for the Job
Once you decide what style of honey you want your bees to make (extracted,
comb, chunk, or creamed) you need to get hold of the appropriate kind of
equipment. This section discusses the various types that you’ll need depend-
ing upon the style of honey you want to harvest.
Essentially, an extractor is a device that spins honey from the comb using
centrifugal force (see Figure 14-1). Extractors come in different sizes and
styles to meet virtually every need and budget. Hand-crank models or ones
with electric motors are available. Small ones for the hobbyist with a few
hives, huge ones for the bee baron with many hives, and everything in
between can be found. Budget extractors are made entirely of plastic, and
rugged ones are fabricated from food-grade stainless steel. Keep in mind,
however, that a good-quality, stainless-steel extractor will far outlast a cheap
one made of plastic. So get the best one that your budget allows. Look for a
model that accommodates at least four frames at a time. Backyard beekeep-
ers can expect to pay $295 to $495 for a new quality extractor. Less for a used
one. Even more for ones with electric motors.
up to six
254 Part V: Sweet Rewards
You may not have to buy an extractor. Some local beekeepers, beekeeping
clubs, and nature centers rent out extractors. So be sure to call around and
see what options you have. Ultimately, you may want to invest in your own.
My advice: If you’re able to, rent or borrow an extractor during your first
season. From the experience you gain, you’ll be better able to choose the
model and style of extractor that best meets your needs.
The wax cappings on the honeycomb form an airtight seal on the cells con-
taining honey — like a lid on a jar. Before honey can be extracted, the “lids”
must be removed. The easiest way is by using an uncapping knife. These
electrically heated knives slice quickly and cleanly through the cappings (see
Alternatively, you can use a large serrated bread knife. Heat it by dipping
in hot water (be sure to wipe the knife dry before you use it to prevent any
water from getting into your honey).
The extracted honey needs to be strained before you bottle it. This step
removes the little bits of wax, wood, and the occasional sticky bee. Any kind
of conventional kitchen strainer or fine-sieved colander will suffice. Nice,
stainless-steel honey strainers (see Figure 14-3) are made just for this pur-
pose and are available from your beekeeping supplier.
Or you can use a disposable paint strainer (available at your local paint
supply store). It does the trick just fine, and fits nicely over a five gallon plas-
255Chapter 14: Getting Ready for the Golden Harvest
this one) is
tive way to
Other handy gadgets for extracting honey
Here are a few of the optional items that are available for extracting honey.
None are essential, but all are useful niceties.
Double uncapping tank
The double uncapping tank is a nifty device that is used to collect the wax
cappings as you slice them off the comb. The upper tank captures the cap-
pings (this wax eventually can be rendered into candles, furniture polish,
cosmetics, and so on). The tank below is separated by a wire rack, and col-
lects the honey that slowly drips off the cappings. Some say the sweetest
honey comes from the cappings! The model shown in Figure 14-4 also has a
honey valve in the lower tank.
256 Part V: Sweet Rewards
An uncapping fork is used to scratch open cappings on the honeycomb (see
Figure 14-5). It can be used in place of or as a supplement to an uncapping
knife (the fork opens stubborn cells missed by the knife).
ping fork is
a useful tool
Five-gallon bottling buckets are made with food-grade plastic and include a
honey gate. They come with airtight lids and are handy for storing and bot-
tling honey. Each pail holds nearly 60 pounds of honey. I always keep a few of
them on hand (see Figure 14-6).
257Chapter 14: Getting Ready for the Golden Harvest
Solar wax melter
Aside from honey, one of the most important products of the hive is bees-
wax. From the wax you can make candles, furniture polish, and cosmetics.
Your primary harvest of wax is the result of the cappings that you cut from
the comb during the honey extraction process. These cappings (and any burr
comb that you trim from the hive during the year) can be placed in a solar
wax melter and melted. A single hive yields enough surplus wax to make
a few candles and some other wax products (such as wax polish or hand
You can obtain a solar wax melter by purchasing it from your bee supplier
or by making one yourself (see Figure 14-7). It typically consists of a wooden
box containing a metal pan, covered with a glass lid. The sun melts the wax,
which is collected in a tray at the base of the unit. It’s a handy piece of equip-
ment if you plan to make use of all that wax.
You can use
a solar wax
258 Part V: Sweet Rewards
Comb honey equipment
Harvesting comb honey boils down to two basic equipment choices, using sec-
tion comb cartridges or the cut-comb method. Either works fine. You’ll need
special equipment on your hives to produce these special kinds of honey. See
Chapter 4 for additional information about comb honey production.
Section comb cartridges
Honeycomb kits consist of special supers containing wooden or plastic section
comb cartridges. Each cartridge contains an ultrathin sheet of wax foundation.
Using them enables the bees to store honey in the package that ultimately is
used to market the honeycomb. My favorite kit — Ross Rounds — makes circu-
lar section comb in clear plastic containers. This is a product with enormous
You typically need a strong nectar flow to encourage the bees to make any
kind of section comb honey.
The cut-comb method uses conventional honey supers and frames, but it
also uses a special foundation that is ultrathin and unwired. Once bees fill
the frames with capped honey, the comb is cut from the frames. You can use
a knife, or a comb honey cutter, which looks like a square cookie cutter and
makes the job easy.
Select an attractive package for your honey (jar, bottle, and so on). Many
options are available to you, and quite frankly, any kind of container will do.
Clear containers are best, because customers want to be able to see what
they’re getting. Either plastic or glass is okay to use. You can purchase all
kinds of specialized honey bottles from your beekeeping supplier. Or simply
use the old mayonnaise and jam jars that you’ve been hoarding.
Planning Your Honey Harvest Setup
Giving some thought to where you plan to extract and bottle your honey
is important. You can use your basement, garage, tool shed, or even your
kitchen. You don’t need a big area. If you have only a few hives, harvesting
is a one-person job. But be prepared — you’ll likely get plenty of volunteers
who want to help out. The kids in my neighborhood are eager to lend a hand
in exchange for a taste of my liquid candy. The guidelines in the following list
will help you choose the best location:
259Chapter 14: Getting Ready for the Golden Harvest
✓ The space you choose must be absolutely beetight. That is to say, you
don’t want any bees getting into the space where you’re working. The
smell of all that honey will attract them, and the last thing you want is
hundreds (or thousands) of ravenous bees flying all about.
✓ Never, ever attempt to harvest your honey outdoors. If you do, disaster
is imminent! In short order you’ll be engulfed by thousands of bees,
drawn by the honey’s sweet smell.
✓ Set up everything in advance, and arrange your equipment in a way
that complements the sequential order of the extraction process (see
✓ Have a bucket of warm water — better yet, hot and cold running
water — and a towel at the ready. Life gets sticky when you’re harvest-
ing honey, and the water is a welcome means for rinsing off your hands
and uncapping knife.
✓ If you’re using an electric uncapping knife, you’ll need an electrical
outlet. But remember that water and electricity don’t mix well, so be
✓ Place newspaper on the floor. This little step saves time during
cleanup. If your floor is washable, that really makes life easy!
setup, left to
right, in my
260 Part V: Sweet Rewards
Branding and Selling Your Honey
Before you harvest your first crop of honey, you may want to give some
advanced thought to the label you will put on it. You may even want to sell
your honey. After all, a hundred or more bottles of honey may accommodate
more toast than your family can eat! The following sections describe some
ideas to help you think this through.
Creating an attractive label
An attractive label can greatly enhance the appearance and salability of your
honey. It also includes important information about the type of honey and
who packages it (you!). Generic labels are available from your beekeeping
supplier. Or you can make your own custom label. I easily reproduce my
labels (see Figure 14-9) using my computer’s printer and an appropriate size
of blank, self-adhesive labels.
to the point.
You must include a few important bits of information on your label (assuming
that you’re planning to sell your honey). Listed below are label requirements
that you need to keep in mind (see Figure 12-11). You must
✓ State what the container contains: HONEY.
✓ Include your name and address (as the producer).
✓ Report the net weight on the lower 20 percent of the label using a dual
weight declaration, for example, NET WEIGHT 16 OZ. (1 lb). Federal law
261Chapter 14: Getting Ready for the Golden Harvest
In addition to these requirements, I recommend
✓ Adding information about the type of honey in the package (for example,
WILDFLOWER) and some marketing propaganda about the pure and
wholesome nature of the product.
✓ Including information about the nutritional value (not usually required
by law). I think it makes the product far more professional looking. For
more on the wording and design of a nutritional information label, see
Go to your local market and make mental notes about commercial honey
labels. Which ones appeal to you? What about them makes them look so
attractive? What kind of image or graphic is used? Which colors look best?
Borrow ideas shamelessly from the ones you like best — but be careful not to
steal anything that may be trademarked!
based on a
jar of honey.
Serving Size 1 Tbsp (21g)
Serving Size 1 Tbsp (21g)
Servings Per Container 22
Amount Per Serving
Total Fat 0g
% Daily Valve
Total Carbohydrate 17g
*Percent Daily Values (DV) are based on
a 2,000 calorie diet.
Serv size: 1 Tbsp (21g), Servings: 22, Amount
Total Fat 0g Total Carb. 17 g0%
Sodium 0 mg Sugars 16 g
Protein 16 g
Amount serving%DV* %DV*
*Percent Daily Values (DV) are
based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
Simplified Tabular Format
Simplified Tabular Format
Per Serving: Calories 64, Total Fat 0g (0% DV), Sodium 0mg (0% DV),
Total carb, 17g (6% DV), Sugars 16g, Protein 0g, Percent Daily Values (DV)
are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
Helvetica Regular 8 point
with 1 point of leading
Franklin Gothic Heavy or
Helvetica Black, flush left
& flush right, no smaller
than 13 point
3 point rule
8 point Helvetica Regular
with 4 points of leading
8 point Helvetica Black
with 4 points of leading
7 point rule
6 point Helvetica Black
All labels are enclosed by
1/2 point box rule within
3 points of text measure
6 point with 1 point of leading
1/4 point rule centered between
nutrients (2 points leading above
and 2 points below)
262 Part V: Sweet Rewards
More detailed information about creating a distinctive label is available from
the National Honey Board, 390 Lashley St., Longmont, CO 80501-6045. Its Web
address is: www.nhb.org.
Finding places to market your honey
An independently owned food market in your neighborhood may be inter-
ested in selling your honey. Honey is a pure and natural food, and you don’t
need a license to package and sell it (more detailed information is available
from the National Honey Board, 390 Lashley St., Longmont, CO 80501-6045;
see Web address in the previous section. Here are some other ideas:
✓ Check out health food stores. They’re always looking for a source of
fresh, local honey.
✓ Gift stores, craft shops, and boutiques are good places to sell local
✓ Put up an attractive sign in front of your house: HONEY FOR SALE.
✓ Sell your honey at the local farmers’ market.
✓ Don’t forget to consider church fairs, synagogue bazaars, and gardening
✓ And by all means GIVE a bottle to all your immediate neighbors. It’s the
right thing to do, and a great public relations gesture.
Selling your honey on the Web
This is the Web generation. So why not set up a simple Web site to sell your
honey all over the world? Or use eBay. Remember that plastic honey jars
are lighter to ship and less fragile than glass. This may be the time to invest
in Creating Web Pages For Dummies for more information on that particular
In This Chapter
▶ Knowing when to harvest your honey
▶ Extracting and bottling the easy way
▶ Cleaning up
▶ Harvesting wax cappings
▶ Storing equipment for the next season
The day you’ve anticipated all year is finally here, and it’s time to reap the
rewards of all your efforts (actually the bees did most of the work, but go
ahead and take the credit anyway). It’s time for the honey harvest!
And what better excuse could you ever have for having a party! Harvest day
always is a big event at my house — a day when neighbors and friends gather
to lend a hand and get a free sample from the magic candy machine. I sched-
ule an open house on honey harvest day, inviting anyone interested to stop
by, lend a hand, see how it’s done, and go home with a bottle of honey still
warm from the hive. I have plenty of honey-related refreshments on hand:
honey-ginger snaps, and honey-sweetened ice tea and lemonade.
I am assuming that you’ve decided to harvest extracted honey. That’s what I
recommend for new beekeepers. Harvesting extracted honey is easier for you
and the bees, and you’re far more likely to get a substantial crop than if you
were trying to produce comb honey. Comb honey requires picture-perfect con-
ditions to realize a successful harvest (large hive population, hard working and
productive bees, ideal weather conditions, and excellent nectar flows).
Extracted honey refers to honey that is removed from wax comb by centrifugal
force (using a device call an extractor). The honey is bottled in a liquid form,
as opposed to harvesting comb or chunk honey where the honey is not
removed from the wax comb before it’s packaged.
264 Part V: Sweet Rewards
Be sure to allow yourself enough time. I set aside an entire weekend for my
harvest activities, part of one afternoon to get the honey supers off the hive
and a good hunk of the following day to actually extract and bottle the honey.
Knowing When to Harvest
Generally speaking, beekeepers harvest their honey at the conclusion of a
substantial nectar flow and when the hive is filled with cured and capped
honey (see Figure 15-1). Conditions and circumstances vary greatly across
the country. Here in Connecticut, early one spring, I had an unusually large
flow of nectar from a large honey locust tree. My bees filled their honey
supers before June. I harvested this rare and delicate white honey in late
May. I put the supers back on and got another harvest in the late summer.
More typically, I will wait until late summer to harvest my crop (usually mid-
September). Where I live (in the northeastern United States) the last major
nectar flow (from the asters) is over by September. First-year beekeepers
are lucky if they get a small harvest of honey by late summer. That’s because
a new colony needs a full season to build up a large enough population to
gather a surplus of honey.
I suggest that you take a peek under the hive cover every couple of weeks
during summer. Note what kind of progress your bees are making and find out
how many of the frames are filled with capped honey.
When a shallow frame contains 80 percent or more of sealed, capped honey,
you’re welcome to remove and harvest this frame. Or, you can practice
patience — leave your frames on and wait until one of the following is true:
✓ The bees have filled all the frames with capped honey.
✓ The last major nectar flow of the season is complete.
ready to be
265Chapter 15: Honey Harvest Day
Honey in open cells (not capped with wax) can be extracted if it is cured. To
see if it’s cured, turn the frame with the cells facing the ground. Give the frame
a gentle shake. If honey leaks from the cells, it isn’t cured and shouldn’t be
extracted. This stuff is not even honey. It’s nectar that hasn’t been cured. The
water content is too high for it to be considered honey. Attempting to bottle
the nectar results in watery syrup that is likely to ferment and spoil.
Bad things come to those who wait!
You want to wait until the bees have gathered all the honey they can, so be
patient. That’s a virtue. However, don’t leave the honey supers on the hive
too long! I know, I know! Things tend to get busy around Labor Day. Besides
spending a weekend harvesting your honey, you probably have plenty of
other things to do. But don’t put off what must be done. If you wait too long,
one of the following two undesirable situations can occur:
✓ After the last major nectar flow and winter looms on the distant
horizon, bees begin consuming the honey they’ve made. If you leave
supers on the hive long enough, the bees will eat much of the honey
you’d hoped to harvest. Or they will start moving it to open cells in the
lower deep hive bodies. Either way, you have lost the honey that should
have been yours. Get those supers off the hive before that happens!
✓ If you wait too long to remove your supers, the weather turns too cold
to harvest your honey. In cool weather, honey can thicken or even gran-
ulate, which makes it impossible to extract from the comb. I discuss this
later in this chapter in the “Two common honey-extraction questions”
sidebar. Remember that honey is easiest to harvest when it still holds
the warmth of summer and can flow easily.
Getting the Bees Out of
the Honey Supers
Regardless what style of honey you decide to harvest, you must remove the
bees from the honey supers before you can extract or remove the honey.
You’ve heard the old adage, “Too many cooks spoil the broth!” Well, you cer-
tainly don’t need to bring several thousand bees into your kitchen!
You must leave the bees 60 to 70 pounds of honey for their own use during
winter months (less in those climates that don’t experience cold winters). But
anything they collect more than that is yours for the taking.
266 Part V: Sweet Rewards
To estimate how many pounds of honey are in your hive, figure that each deep
frame of capped honey weighs about 7 pounds. If you have ten deep frames of
capped honey, you have 70 pounds!
Removing bees from honey supers can be accomplished in many different
ways. This section discusses a few of the more popular methods that bee-
keepers employ. Before attempting any of these methods, be sure to smoke
your bees the way you normally would when opening the hive for inspection.
(See Chapter 6 for information on how to use your smoker properly.)
The bees are protective of their honey during this season. Besides donning
your veil, now’s the time to wear your gloves. If you have somebody helping
you, be sure they are also adequately protected.
Shakin’ ’em out
This bee-removal method involves removing frames (one by one) from honey
supers and then shaking the bees off in front of the hive’s entrance (see
Figure 15-2). The cleared frames are put into an empty super. Be sure that
you cover the super with a towel or board to prevent bees from robbing you
of honey. Alternatively, you can use a bee brush (see Chapter 4) to gently
brush bees off the frames.
bees out of
Note that the cells on comb tend to slant downward slightly — to better hold
liquid nectar. Therefore, when brushing bees, you should always brush bees
gently upward (never downward). This little tip helps prevent you from injur-
ing or killing bees that are partly in a cell when you’re brushing.
267Chapter 15: Honey Harvest Day
Shaking and brushing bees off frames aren’t the best options for the new
beekeeper, because they can be quite time consuming, particularly when you
have a lot of supers to clear. Besides the action can get pretty intense around
the hive during this procedure. The bees are desperate to get back into those
honey frames, and, because of their frenzy, you can become engulfed in a
fury of bees. Don’t worry — just continue to do your thing. The bees can’t
really hurt you, provided you’re wearing protective gear.
Blowin’ ’em out
One fast way to remove bees from supers is by blowing them out, but they
don’t like it much. Honey supers are removed from the hive (bees and
all) and stood on end. By placing them 15 to 20 feet away from the hive’s
entrance and using a special bee blower (or a conventional leaf blower), the
bees are blasted from the frames at 200 miles an hour. Although it works, to
be sure, the bees wind up disoriented and very irritated. Oh goodie. Again, I
wouldn’t recommend this method for the novice beekeeper.
A bee blower is basically the same as a conventional leaf blower, just pack-
aged differently and usually more expensive.
Using a bee escape board
Yet another bee-removal method (and far less dramatic) places a bee escape
board between the upper deep-hive body and the honey supers that you
want to clear the bees from. Various models of escape boards are available,
and all work on the same principle: The bees can travel down to the brood
nest, but they can’t immediately figure out how to travel back up into the
honey supers. It’s a one-way trip. (See Figure 15-3 for an example of a triangle
bee escape with a maze that prevents the bees from finding their way back
up into the honey supers.)
Bee escapes work okay, but it takes a few days for the bees to be cleared from
the honey supers. You must install the escape boards 48 hours before you
plan to remove the honey supers. It takes that long to clear the bees. And, the
thing is, you can’t leave the escape board on for more than 48 hours, or the
bees eventually solve the puzzle and find their way back into the supers. For
me, a weekend beekeeper, the timing of all this is quite impractical.
268 Part V: Sweet Rewards
it takes the
bees a while
to figure out
how to get
back up into
Fume board and bee repellent
Here’s my favorite method — a fume board and bee repellent! It’s fast and
highly effective. And it’s made even more desirable because of a wonderful
new product on the market (more about that later in this section).
A fume board looks like an outer cover with a flannel lining. A liquid bee
repellent is applied to the flannel lining and the fume board is placed on top
of the honey supers (in place of the inner and outer covers). Within five min-
utes, the bees are repelled out of the honey supers and down into the brood
chamber. Instant success! The honey supers can then be safely removed and
taken to your harvesting area.
In the past, chemicals used as repellents (either butyric propionic anhydride
or benzaldehyde) have been hazardous in nature. They’re toxic, combustible,
and may cause respiratory damage, central nervous system depression,
dermatitis, and liver damage. Need I say more? It’s simply nasty stuff to have
around the house.
In addition, the stench of each of these products is more than words can
politely express. All that has changed with the introduction of a product
called Fischer’s Bee-Quick (see Figure 15-4). This product repels the bees, but
it is nonhazardous and made entirely from natural ingredients. Best of all, its
almond-vanilla scent smells good enough to be a dessert topping!
269Chapter 15: Honey Harvest Day
A safe and
fast way to
get bees out
supers is to
use a fume
Here are step-by-step instructions for using a fume board with Fischer’s
1. Smoke your hive as you would for a normal inspection.
2. Remove the outer and inner covers, and the queen excluder.
3. Use your smoker on the top honey super to drive the bees downward.
4. Sprinkle Fischer’s Bee Quick on the fume board’s felt pad in a zigzag
pattern (as if corresponding to spaces between the frames) across the
full width of the fume board.
Don’t overdo it. About one ounce or less should do the trick (use more
in cold, cloudy weather, less in hot, sunny weather). When in doubt . . .
5. Place fume board on the uppermost honey super and wait three to
five minutes for the bees to be driven out (this method works most
effectively when the sun is shining on the fume board’s metal cover).
6. Remove the fume board and confirm that most or all of the bees have
left the super. They have? Good.
7. Now remove the top honey super. Put the super aside and cover it
with a towel or extra hive cover to avoid robbing (discussed in the
8. Repeat the process for subsequent honey supers.
Keep in mind that a shallow super full of capped honey can weigh 30 to 40
pounds. You’ll have a heavy load to move from the beeyard to wherever you’ll
be extracting honey. So be sure to save your back and take a wheelbarrow or
hand truck with you when removing honey supers from the hive. Figure 15-5
shows a hive carrier.
270 Part V: Sweet Rewards
If you have
a friend to
help, a hive
Honey Extraction 101
Once the bees are out of the honey supers, you need to be prepared to pro-
cess your honey as soon as possible (within a few days). Doing so minimizes
the chance of a wax moth infestation, discussed in the “Controlling wax
moths” section later in this chapter. Besides, extracting honey is easier to do
when the honey is still warm from the hive as it flows much more freely.
You can store your frames of honey
(briefly) before extracting
Extracting your honey as soon as you can after
taking the honey supers off the hive is best. I
try to schedule my extraction activities either on
the same day that I remove the supers from the
hive or the day following removal. If that isn’t
practical, you can temporarily store your shal-
low supers in a bee-tight room where the tem-
perature is between 80 and 90 degrees F. Honey
that’s kept warm is much easier to extract and
strain and is far less likely to granulate. A new
beekeeper with one or two hives can expect to
spend 3 to 5 hours on the extraction process.
Under no circumstances leave honey supers
uncovered where bees can get access to them.
Unless you want to see something really excit-
ing! Specifically, you will set off what called
a “robbing frenzy”. Dramatic, but not a good
thing. When you remove honey supers, get
them away from the hives and in a “bee-tight”
room as soon as possible.
271Chapter 15: Honey Harvest Day
For a description of the various tools used in the honey-extraction process
(uncapping knife, honey extractor, bucket of warm water, a towel, and so
forth) see Chapter 14.
Follow this procedure when extracting honey from your frames:
1. One by one, remove each frame of capped honey from the super.
Hold the frame vertically over the uncapping tank and tip it slightly for-
ward. This helps the cappings fall away from the comb as you slice them.
2. Use your electric uncapping knife to remove the wax cappings and
expose the cells of honey.
A gentle side-to-side slicing motion works best, like slicing bread. Start
a quarter of the way from the bottom of the comb, slicing upward (see
Figure 15-6). Keep your fingers out of harm’s way in the event the knife
slips. Complete the job with a downward thrust of the knife to uncap the
cells on the lower 25 percent of the frame.
3. Use an uncapping fork (also called cappings scratcher) to get any
cells missed by the knife.
Flip the frame over, and use the same technique to do the opposite side.
I discuss what you should do with the wax cappings, particularly if you
want to use them for craft purposes, later in this chapter.
4. When the frame is uncapped, place it vertically in your extractor (see
An extractor is a device that spins the honey from the cells and into a
Once you’ve uncapped enough frames to fill your extractor, put the
lid on and start cranking. Start spinning slowly at first, building some
speed as you progress. Don’t spin the frames as fast as you can, because
extreme centrifugal force may damage the delicate wax comb. After spin-
ning for five to six minutes, turn all the frames to expose the opposite
sides to the outer wall of the extractor. After another five to six minutes
of spinning, the comb will be empty. The frames can be returned to the
5. As the extractor fills with honey, it becomes increasingly difficult to
turn the crank (the rising level of honey prevents the frames from
spinning freely), so you need to drain off some of the harvest.
Open the valve at the bottom of the extractor and allow the honey to
filter through a honey strainer and into your bottling bucket.
6. Use the valve in the bottling bucket to fill the jars you’ve designed for
Brand it with your label, and you’re done! Time to clean up.
272 Part V: Sweet Rewards
is a nifty
cally in the
273Chapter 15: Honey Harvest Day
Honey is hygroscopic — meaning that it absorbs moisture from the air. On the
positive side, this is why baked goods made with honey stay moist and fresh.
On the negative side, this means you must keep your honey containers tightly
sealed, otherwise your honey will absorb moisture, become diluted, and even-
Having enough honey jars and lids on hand is important. Standard honey jars
are available in 1-, 2- and 5-pound sizes. You can estimate that you’ll harvest
about 30 pounds of honey from each shallow honey super (assuming all of the
frames are full of honey).
Cleaning Up After Extracting
Never store extracted frames while they’re wet with honey. You’ll wind up with
moldy frames that have to be destroyed and replaced next year. You’ve got to
clean up the sticky residue on the extracted frames. How? Let the bees do it!
At dusk, place the supers with the empty frames on top of your hive (sand-
wiched between the top deep and the inner and outer covers). Leave the
supers on the hive for a few days, and then remove them (you may have to
coax the bees from the supers using a bee escape or fume board). The bees
Two common honey-extraction questions
Here’s a question I’m frequently asked: When
I spin frames in my honey extractor, the entire
unit wobbles uncontrollably, dancing across the
floor. How do I prevent this from happening?
This shimmy happens when the load in the
extractor is unbalanced. Make sure you have
a frame in each of the basket’s slots. Try redis-
tributing the weight in the basket. Place frames
of similar weight opposite each other. It’s kind
of like rearranging the wash load in the washing
machine during the spin cycle. Some extractors
can be bolted to a sturdy table — that helps.
Another frequently asked question I receive is:
The honey in some of my shallow frames has
granulated. I cannot remove the granulated
honey using my extractor. How can I extract
granulated honey from the honeycomb?
Unfortunately, no practical way to extract
granulated honey from the honeycomb exists
without destroying the honeycomb (melting the
comb and wax, and then separating the wax
once it floats to the top and solidifies). I sug-
gest that you put supers with granulated honey
back on the hives in the early spring. Before you
do, scratch the cappings with an uncapping
fork, exposing the honey to the bees. They’ll
consume the granulated honey and leave the
combs sparkling clean and ready for a new
harvest. Note: Don’t feed your bees granulated
honey in late autumn, because it can give them
274 Part V: Sweet Rewards
will lick up every last drop of honey, making the frames bone dry and ready
to store until next honey season. Be sure to treat your frames with wax moth
control before storing them away for the winter (see the next section).
Controlling wax moths
There’s a good chance that honey supers stored over the winter will become
infested with wax moths. It happens. The adult moth lays eggs on beeswax
comb before the hives are stored for the winter. The developing larvae tunnel
their way through the wax comb, leaving a crisscrossed pattern of silky trails.
In time, all the frames are destroyed and become useless. What a dishearten-
ing sight to discover this damage. You can help prevent wax moth damage in
stored honey supers by:
✓ Fumigating them with PDB.
My favorite solution is to treat stored supers with wax moth control
crystals (paradichlorobenzene, or PDB; see Figure 15-8). This product is
available from your bee supplier. Place a tablespoon of PDB crystals on
an index card and put the card on the top bars of the super to be stored.
Do this for every super that you plan to store, stacking them one on top
of another, like so many floors of a building.
Top the whole stack with an outer cover. Make sure there are no gaps
or cracks. You want the slowly evaporating crystals to fumigate all the
frames while they’re stored over the winter. If you’ve drilled any ventila-
tion holes in the supers, make sure they’re taped shut.
Store supers in any area where the air temperature is above 60 degrees
F. When spring arrives, and you’re ready to place the honey supers on
your hive, be sure to air them out for 48 hours before using them.
275Chapter 15: Honey Harvest Day
PDB crystals are not the same as other moth control products made
from naphthalene. Don’t confuse the two. PDB is ok to use, as it is not
absorbed by the wax. But moth control products made from naphtha-
lene contaminate the wax and will kill your bees when the supers are
reintroduced into the hive. Read labels carefully!
✓ Freezing the combs.
You can destroy wax moth larvae by placing the frames in the deep-
freezer for 24 hours. This assumes, of course, that you have a really big
freezer! Then put the frames back in the supers and store them in tightly
sealed, plastic garbage bags. The colder the storage area, the better.
When you extract honey, the cappings that you slice off represent your major
wax harvest for the year. You’ll probably get one or two pounds of wax for
every 100 pounds of honey that you harvest. This wax can be cleaned and
melted down for all kinds of uses (See the section on beeswax in Chapter 14).
Pound for pound, wax is worth more than honey, so it’s definitely worth a bit
of effort to reclaim this prize. Here are some guidelines:
1. Allow gravity to drain as much honey from the cappings as possible.
Let the cappings drain for a few days. Using a double uncapping tank
greatly simplifies this process.
2. Place the drained cappings in a five-gallon plastic pail and top them
off with warm (not hot) water.
Using a paddle — or your hands — slosh the cappings around in the
water to wash off any remaining honey. Drain the cappings through a
colander or a honey strainer and repeat this washing process until the
water runs clear.
3. Place the washed cappings in a double boiler and melt the wax.
Always use a double boiler for melting beeswax (never melt beeswax
directly on an open flame, because it is highly flammable). And never,
ever leave the melting wax — even for a moment. If you need to go to the
bathroom, turn off the stove!
4. Strain the melted beeswax through a couple of layers of cheesecloth
to remove any debris.
Remelt and restrain as necessary to remove all impurities from the wax.
5. The rendered wax can be poured into a block mold for later use.
I use an old cardboard milk carton. Once the melted wax has solidi-
fied in the carton, it can easily be removed by tearing away the carton.
You’re left with a hefty block of pure, light-golden beeswax.
In this part . . .
In this part, I offer a collection of fun lists, frequently
asked questions, and honey recipes.
In This Chapter
▶ Combining, dividing, and building hives
▶ Planting a garden for your bees
▶ Brewing mead: The nectar of the gods
▶ Creating useful gifts from propolis and beeswax
One of the glorious things about keeping bees is that your interests
can expand way beyond the business with your smoker and hive tool.
Beekeeping opens up entire new worlds of related hobbies and activities —
horticulture, carpentry, biology, and crafts just to name a few. That’s been
a good thing for me, because living in Connecticut, as I do, the winters were
unbearably long when I couldn’t play with my bees. I really missed them! But
now, having gotten drawn into some of these “related” hobbies, I can hardly
find time to sit and think. Here are a few of the bee-related activities whose
sirens have beckoned to me over the years.
Making Two Hives From One
If you’re like most beekeepers I know, it’s only a matter of time before you
start to ask yourself, “Gee, wouldn’t it be twice as much fun to have twice
as many hives?” Well, actually it is. And the neat thing is that you can create
a second colony from your existing colony. You don’t even have to order
another package of bees! Free bees! Ah, but here’s the dilemma! You’ll need
a new queen for your new colony. Strictly speaking, you don’t have to order
a new queen. You can let the bees make their own; however, ordering a new
queen is simply faster and more foolproof. I discuss the nuances of ordering
a new queen later in this chapter. Or if you want to get really adventurous,
you can raise your own queen (see Chapter 13).
280 Part VI: The Part of Tens
To make two hives from one, you first need a strong, healthy hive. That’s just
what you hope your hive will be like at the start of its second season — boil-
ing with lots and lots of busy bees. The procedure is known as dividing or
making a divide.
Dividing not only enables you to start a new colony, it’s also considered good
bee management — dividing thins out a strong colony and prevents that
colony from swarming.
The best time to make a divide is in the early spring about a month before
the first major nectar flow. Follow these steps in the order they are given:
1. Check your existing colony (colonies) to determine whether you have
one that’s strong enough to divide.
Look for lots of bees, and lots of capped brood (six frames of capped
brood and/or larvae are ideal). The situation should look crowded.
2. Order a new hive setup from your bee supplier.
You’ll want hive bodies, frames, foundation — the works. You need the
elements to build a new home for your new family.
3. Order a new queen from your bee supplier.
Alternatively, you can allow the new colony to raise its own queen. See
Your new queen doesn’t have to be marked, but having a marked queen
is a plus, particularly when you’re looking for her because the mark
makes her easier to identify. I advise you, a new beekeeper, to let your
bee vendor mark your queen. A novice can end up killing a queen by
4. Put your new hive equipment where you plan to locate your new
family of bees.
You’ll need only to put out one deep hive body at this point — just like
when you started your first colony (see Chapter 5). Remove four of the
ten foundation frames and set them aside. You’ll need them later.
5. When your new marked queen arrives, it’s time to divide!
Smoke and open your existing colony as usual.
6. Find the frame with the queen and set it aside in a safe place.
An extra empty hive body and cover will do just fine. Better yet, use a
small “nuc” hive (available from your supplier). These mini-hives con-
tain only five frames.
281Chapter 16: (Almost) Ten Fun Things to Do with Bees
7. Now remove three frames of capped brood (frames with cells of
developing pupae) plus all the bees that are on each of them.
Place these three brood frames and bees in the center of the new hive.
I know, I know — that still leaves one slot open because your removed
four frames of foundation. The extra slot, however, provides the space
that you’ll need to hang the new queen cage (see Step 8).
8. Using two frame nails, fashion a hanging bracket for the new queen
cage (candy side up) and hang the cage between brood frames in the
middle of the new hive. Alternatively if the weather is nice and warm,
you can use the Bottom Board installation technique. See Chapter 9).
Make sure you have removed the cork stopper or metal disc, revealing
the candy plug. This is the same queen introduction technique that you
used when you installed your first package of bees (see Chapter 5).
9. Put a hive-top feeder on your new colony and fill it with sugar syrup.
10. Turn your attention back to the original hive.
Carefully put the frame containing the queen back into the colony. Add
three of the new foundation frames (to replace the three brood frames
that you removed earlier). Place these frames closest to the outer walls
of the hive.
11. Add a hive-top feeder to your original hive and fill it with sugar syrup.
Congratulations, you’re the proud parent of a new colony! But wait, you say,
“I’ve got one new frame of foundation left over.” Good. That’s what you’ll use
next week to replace what will then be an empty queen cage. If you used the
bottom board installation technique, this step is eliminated.
Making One Hive From Two
Keep in mind that it’s better to go into the winter with strong colonies —
they have a far better chance of making it through the stressful cold months
than do weak ones.
If you have a weak hive, you can combine it with a stronger colony. If you
have two weak hives, you can combine them to create a robust colony. But
you can’t just dump the bees from one hive into another. If you do, all hell
will break loose. Two colonies must be combined slowly and systematically
so that the hive odors merge gradually — little by little. This is best done late
in the summer or early in the autumn (it isn’t a good idea to merge two colo-
nies in the middle of the active swarming season).
282 Part VI: The Part of Tens
My favorite method for merging two colonies is the so-called newspaper
method. A single sheet of newspaper separates the two hives that you’ll com-
bine. Follow these steps in the order they are given:
1. Identify the stronger of the two colonies.
Which colony has the largest population of bees? Its hive should
become the home of the combined colonies. The stronger colony stays
put right where it’s now located.
2. Smoke and open the weaker colony (see Chapter 6 for instructions).
Manipulate the frames so that you wind up with a single deep hive body
containing ten frames of bees, brood, and honey. In other words, consol-
idate the bees and the ten best frames into one single deep. The “best”
frames are those with the most capped brood, eggs, and/or honey.
3. Smoke and open the stronger hive.
Remove the outer and inner covers and put a single sheet of newspaper
on the top bars. Make a small slit, or poke a few holes in the newspaper
with a small nail. This helps hive odors pass back and forth between the
strong colony and the weak one that you’re about to place on top.
4. Take the hive body from the weak colony (it now contains ten con-
solidated frames of bees and brood) and place it directly on top of the
stronger colony’s hive.
Only the perforated sheet of newspaper separates the two colonies (see
5. Add a hive-top feeder and fill it with sugar syrup.
The outer cover goes on top of the feeder. No inner cover is used when
using a hive-top feeder.
6. Check the hive in a week.
The newspaper will have been chewed away, and the two colonies will
have happily joined into one whacking strong colony. The weaker queen
is now history, and only the stronger queen remains.
7. Now you have the task of consolidating the three deeps back into two.
Go through all the frames, selecting the 20 best frames of honey, pollen,
and brood. Arrange these in the lower two deeps. Frames with mostly
brood go into the bottom deep, and frames with mostly honey go into
the upper deep. Shake the bees off the ten surplus frames and into the
lower two deeps (save these frames and the third hive body as spares).
283Chapter 16: (Almost) Ten Fun Things to Do with Bees
Establishing a Nucleus Hive
A nucleus hive (often called a “nuc”; see Chapter 5) is created by stocking a
special miniature hive with a few frames of bees and brood from one of your
colonies (see Figure 16-2). Why create a nuc? Some of the reasons include
✓ A nuc can serve as nursery for raising new queens (see Chapter 12).
✓ A nuc provides you with a handy source of brood, pollen, and nectar to
supplement weaker colonies (kind of like having your own dispensary).
✓ A nuc can be sold to other beekeepers — they’re a great way to start a
✓ A nuc can be used to populate an observation hive.
✓ A nuc in the corner of a garden can help with pollination and be far less
maintenance than a regular hive.
284 Part VI: The Part of Tens
The big disadvantage of a nuc is that it will not overwinter in colder climate
zones. Not enough bees or stored honey is available to see them through the
cold months. However you can feed the colony using an entrance feeder, but
if you live in an area where the winters are cold, you should combine your.
nuc with one of your big hives before Jack Frost pays a visit.
A nuc hive
be a handy
Starting an Observation Hive
An observation hive is a small hive with a glass panel that enables you to
observe a colony of bees without disturbing them or risking being stung.
Such hives usually are kept indoors but provide access for the bees to fly
freely from the hive to the outdoors (a tube or pipe creates a passage way
from the observation hive to outside).
I’m a big believer in having an observation hive — even when you have con-
ventional hives in your garden. The pleasure and added insight they give you
about honey bee behavior is immeasurable. Among a few of the rewards you
can realize from setting up an observation hive are that it:
285Chapter 16: (Almost) Ten Fun Things to Do with Bees
✓ Gives you a barometer on what’s happening in a bee colony at any given
time of year. That way you can anticipate the needs of your outdoor
colonies and better manage your hives. Note that the behavior of bees
in an observation hive is influenced by the weather outside (not by the
✓ Makes possible safe close-up observation of bee behavior. And because
you can watch the bees without smoking or opening the hive, the bees’
behavior is far more natural. You’ll see things that you can never wit-
ness while inspecting a conventional hive. I’ve watched the queen laying
eggs, the hive preparing for a swarm, and bees emerging from their cells.
I’ve also studied the bees’ remarkable communication dances and much
✓ Provides — because it’s kept indoors — year-round enjoyment. No need
to be a seasonal beekeeper, because you can observe your bees even in
the dead of winter.
✓ Serves as a fantastic educational tool for all ages and a stunning conver-
sation piece in your home. Spend endless hours admiring the remark-
able world of the honey bee.
✓ Enables you to enjoy the pleasures of beekeeping from the comfort of
your home, especially when you don’t have the space to keep bees out-
doors or can’t physically manage a robust outdoor hive.
Observation hives come in all sizes and styles. Many on the market contain
a mere frame or two. These smaller observation hives are great for toting to
garden shows, classrooms, or wherever you might do a “show and tell” about
beekeeping. But practical observation hives for year-round enjoyment are at
least three-frames thick. Observation hives that are only one- or two-frames
thick don’t have enough volume for housing a decent-sized colony that can
survive during the winter months. A colony needs ample room to grow and
survive on a year-round basis. Furthermore, the bees’ behavior is far more
natural when they have generous enough space to raise brood and create
adequate stores of honey. My favorite design includes three deep frames for
brood and three shallow frames for food storage (see Figure 16-3). All obser-
vation hives make allowances for feeding the colony sugar syrup (something
that you’ll have to do on a year-round basis).
A nice six-frame observation hive is available from www.bee-commerce.
com, 11 Lilac Lane, Weston, CT 06883. Call 203-222-2268. For detailed informa-
tion about setting up, maintaining, and using an observation hive, I recom-
mend the book Observation Hives by Thomas Webster and Dewey Caron (The
A.I. Root Company, Medina, OH, 1999, ISBN: 0-936028-12-2).
286 Part VI: The Part of Tens
means it will
and a big
Planting Flowers for Your Bees
This section was prepared by my friend Ellen Zampino, an avid gardener
and an excellent beekeeper.
Flowers and bees are a perfect match. Bees gather nectar and pollen enabling
plants to reproduce. In turn, pollen feeds baby bees, and nectar is turned into
honey to be enjoyed by the bees and you. Everyone’s happy.
While many kinds of trees and shrubs are bees’ prime source of pollen and
nectar, a wide range of flowers contributes to bee development and a bumper
crop of honey. You can help in this process by adding some of these flowers
to your garden or by not removing some that already are there. Did you know
that many weeds actually are great bee plants, including the pesky dande-
lion, clover, goldenrod, and purple vetch? You can grow all kinds of flowering
plants in your garden that not only will add beauty and fragrance to your yard
but also give bees handy sources of pollen and nectar. You’ll hear the warm
buzz of bees enjoying them before you even realize the plants are in bloom.
287Chapter 16: (Almost) Ten Fun Things to Do with Bees
Each source of nectar has its own flavor. A combination of nectars produces
great tasting honey. Not all varieties of the flowers described in the sections
that follow produce the same quality or quantity of pollen and nectar, but the
ones that I list here work well, and bees simply love them.
The Aster family has more than 100 different species. The aster is one of the
most common wildflowers ranging in color from white and pink to light and
dark purple. They differ in height from 6 inches to 4 feet and can be fairly
bushy. Asters are mostly perennials, and blooming times vary from early
spring to late fall. However, like all perennials, their blooming period lasts
only a few weeks. Several varieties can be purchased as seeds, but you’ll also
find some aster plants offered for sale at nurseries.
Callistephus are china asters, which run the same range of colors, but pro-
duce varied styles of flowers. These pincushions-to-peony style flowers
start blooming late in summer and continue their displays until frost. They
are annuals. Plants can be bought potted from local nurseries or purchased
Sunflowers are made up of two families. They provide the bees with pollen
and nectar. Each family is readily grown from seed, and you may find some
nurseries that carry them as potted plants. When you start sunflowers early
in the season, make sure that you use peat pots. They are rapid growers that
transplant better when you leave their roots undisturbed by planting the
entire pot. Helianthus annuus include the well-known giant sunflower as well
as many varieties of dwarf and multibranched types. Sunflowers no longer
are only yellow. They come in a wide assortment of colors, from white to rust
and even several varieties of mixed shades. Watch out for the hybrid that is
pollenless, because it is of little use to the bees.
The Salvia family, with more than 500 varieties, includes the sages (Salvia
officinalis) and many bedding plants. The sages are good nectar providers.
When in bloom, they’re covered with bees all day long. The variety of colors
and sizes of the Farinacea and Splendens cover the entire gambit from white,
apricot, all shades of red, and purple, to blues with bicolors and tricolors.
They’re easily found potted in garden stores or available as from seed. Salvia
officinalis is the sage herb that you can use in cooking.
288 Part VI: The Part of Tens
Bee balm (Monarda)
Bee balm (Monarda didyma) is a perennial herb that provides a long-lasting
display of pink, red, and crimson flowers in midsummer. They start flower-
ing when they reach about 18 inches and continue to grow to 3 or 4 feet
in height. Deadheading them encourages more growth, which can prolong
their flowering period. Bee balm is susceptible to powdery mildew but the
Panorama type does a good job of fending off this problem. Bee balm is a
good source of nectar for bees as well as butterflies and hummingbirds. This
family also includes horsemint (M. punctata), and lemon mint (M. citriodora).
The fragrant leaves of most of these plants are used in herbal teas. They are
easily found in seed catalogs. Several varieties usually are available at local
Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) has a licorice fragrance when you
bruise its leaves. It produces tall spikes of purple flowers in midsummer.
Sometimes you can find a white variety of this plant. The bees happily gather
nectar from it. Hyssop flowers from seed the first year that you plant it.
Another common hyssop is found in the wild — Agastache nepetoides. It has a
light, yellowish flower and is found in wooded areas. The seed for this variety
is more difficult to find, but some seed houses carry them.
Chocolate, spearmint, apple mint, peppermint, and orange mint are only a
few of the types of mints available. They come in a variety of colors, sizes,
fragrances, and appearances, but when they produce a flower, bees are
there. Most mints bloom late in the year. Some can be easily grown by seed;
other varieties you can start from roots. Mints are easily obtained because
they spread readily, and many gardeners are happy to share their plants.
Most nurseries carry peppermint and spearmint.
Cleome/Spider flower (Cleome)
Spider flower (Cleome hasslerana) is heat and drought tolerant and grows well
in the cold Northeast. This annual is easy to start from seed and grows more
than 4 feet tall with airy flowers that are 6 to 8inches across. It comes in white,
pink, and light purple and adds an unusual flower to your garden. It’s also a
good producer of nectar for the bees, blooming from midsummer to fall.
Thyme varieties are low-growing hardy herbs. Common, French, wooly,
silver, and lemon are but a few of the varieties available. Several are used
in cooking. In spring most nurseries have large selections. These varieties
289Chapter 16: (Almost) Ten Fun Things to Do with Bees
also can be started by seed at least two to three months before planting. Put
plants between your steppingstones or at the edges of your garden beds.
They bloom from midsummer on. Bees will cover them most of the day gath-
ering nectar, which is aromatic and produces nice-tasting honey.
Danish flag (Papaver somniferum), corn poppy (P. rhoeas), and Iceland pop-
pies (P. nudicaule) are easily grown from seed. Some are deep scarlet or
crimson, but others are found in pastel shades. All bloom freely from early
summer to fall, need full sun, and grow 2 to 4 feet tall. Literature claims that
poppies are valuable mostly for the pollen, but I’m sure my bees also are
gathering a fair amount of nectar.
California poppies (Eschscholzia) are golden orange and easily grown. They
are a good pollen source for honey bees. California poppies will self-seed in
Bachelor’s buttons (Centaurea)
Annual and perennial selections of bachelor’s buttons are available. The
annuals (Centaurea cyanus, C. imperialis), found in shades of white, pink,
yellow, purple, and blue, also are referred to as cornflowers.
The perennial version is a shade of blue that blooms early in summer, and
sometimes again in late fall. They’re sometimes referred to as mountain blue
buttons. Annual and perennial varieties produce an ample supply of nectar.
They’re easily grown from seed, and most nurseries have the annual variety
available as potted plants.
Building Your Own Hives
If you’re reasonably handy with woodworking, you can build your own hive
parts from scratch. Here are some plans to help you along (see Figure 16-4).
Remember that precise measurements are critical within a hive. Bees require
a precise “bee space” (5/16"). If you wind up with too little space for the bees,
they’ll glue everything together with propolis. Too much space and they will
fill it with burr comb (wax comb built by the bees to fill large voids in the
hive). Either way, it makes the manipulation and inspection of frames impos-
sible. So, measure twice and cut once!
290 Part VI: The Part of Tens
Commercial makers of bee equipment typically use pine and cypress. These
woods are cost effective and easy to work with. But why not give your bees
a treat, and spoil them with a hive fashioned from some exotic hardwood?
Central American cocobolo or flame mahogany certainly would turn some
Bee space refers to the critical measurement between hive parts that enables
bees to freely move about the hive. The space measures 5
/16 inch (1 cm).
serve as a
guide if you
L - 20-1/4"
W - 16-5/8"
D - 1-1/2"
1-1/4" X 3-1/2"
3/4" Ext. plywood
(using 3/4" lumber)
Courtesy of Barry Birkey and www.beesource.com
291Chapter 16: (Almost) Ten Fun Things to Do with Bees
3/4" X 2" Cleat
L - 18-3/8"
W - 14-3/4"
D - 9-5/8"
Pre-drill & nail
w/ 6d galv.
Courtesy of Barry Birkey and www.beesource.com
292 Part VI: The Part of Tens
Brewing Mead: The Nectar of the Gods
I get restless every winter when I can’t tend to my bees. So a number of years
ago I looked around for a related hobby that would keep me occupied until
spring. I thought, “Why not brew mead?” Mead is a wine made from honey
instead of grapes. It was the liquor of the Greek gods and is thought by schol-
ars to be the oldest form of alcoholic beverage. In early England and until
about 1600, mead was regarded as the national drink. In fact, the wine that
Robin Hood took from Prince John had honey as its base.
When mead is made right, the resulting product is simply delicious! And like
a fine, red wine, it gets better and better with age. Many companies supply
basic wine- and mead-making equipment to hobbyists (see Figure 16-5). All
you need is a little space to set up shop, and some honey to ferment. The key
to success is keeping everything sanitary — sterile laboratory conditions!
The following recipe produces an extraordinary mead. Technically, this is a
Metheglin, the term given to mead that is spiced. The recipe yields about 40
bottles of finished product. Adjust the amounts to suit your needs.
293Chapter 16: (Almost) Ten Fun Things to Do with Bees
Ideally, keep the room’s temperature at between 65 and 68 degrees F (the cool
basement is a good place to brew mead). If the temperature is higher than 75
degrees F, the yeast may die; if it’s less than 50 degrees F, fermentation ceases.
Note that a portable space heater with a thermostat helps control basement
temperatures during winter.
1. The initial honey and water mixture is called the “must.” My recipe
calls for the following:
• 32 pounds of dark wildflower honey
• 5 gallons of well water (nonchlorinated water)
• 5 sticks of cinnamon
• 1 tablespoon cloves
2. Add the following to the “must”:
/4 tablespoons of wine yeast nutrient (available at wine-making
3. Pour the mixture into a large (16.5-gallon) initial fermentation tank.
Top off with water so that the tank contains a total of 13 gallons of must.
Stir vigorously to blend and to introduce oxygen (splashing permitted).
4. Add the following ingredients to the tank of must:
• 13 potassium metabisulfite tablets (available at wine-making
supply stores) to hinder the growth of undesirable bacteria.
• A few drops of antifoam agent (available at wine-making supply
5. Wait 24 hours, and then add the following to the must in the fermen-
/2 packets of white wine yeast (stir to blend)
6. Cover loosely and let the must ferment for 3 to 4 weeks before per-
forming the first racking (when the bubbling and fizzing has stopped,
it’s time to rack.
Racking is the process of siphoning off the liquid and leaving the dead
yeast cells behind.
7. After the initial 3 to 4 weeks, rack liquid into glass carboys. You’ll
need two or three 5-gallon carboys for this recipe.
Fill right up to the neck of the carboy (you want to minimize air space).
Place a fermentation valve on each carboy. The valve keeps air and bac-
teria from entering the carboy. Add one potassium metabisulfite tablet
for each gallon of liquid to maintain 50 parts per million (ppm).
294 Part VI: The Part of Tens
8. Rack a total of two or three more times at 1- to 2-month intervals.
Each racking further clears the mead. I know you are anxious to drink
your mead, but your patience will pay off in a product that tastes great
and has great eye appeal. After the final racking, transfer the mead to
sterilized wine bottles and cork tightly. Store bottles on their sides in
a cool dark place. Remember, the longer the mead is aged, the more
improved the flavor. Salute!
You can get your wine sparkling clear by using a special filtering device avail-
able from beer- and wine-making suppliers.
For more information on making mead, see Making Mead Honey Wine: History,
Recipes, Methods and Equipment by Roger A. Morse (Wicwas Press, Cheshire,
Connecticut, 1992, ISBN: 1878075047).
Create Cool Stuff with Propolis
Propolis (sometimes called “bee glue”) is the super-sticky, gooey material
gathered by the bees from trees and plants. The bees use this brown goop to
fill drafty cracks in the hive, strengthen comb, and to sterilize their home.
Propolis has remarkable antimicrobial qualities that guard against bacteria
and fungi. Its use by bees makes the hive one of the most hygienic domiciles
found in nature. This remarkable property has not gone unnoticed over the
centuries. The Chinese have used it in medicine for thousands of years. Even
Hippocrates touted the value of propolis for healing wounds. In addition,
propolis has been used for centuries as the basis for fine wood varnishes.
When cold, propolis is hard and brittle. But in warm weather propolis is
gummier than words can express. When you inspect your hives at the end
of the summer and early autumn (the height of propolis production), you’ll
discover that the bees have coated just about everything with propolis. The
frames, inner cover, and outer cover will be firmly glued together, and they’ll
require considerable coaxing to pry loose. You’ll get propolis all over your
hands and clothes, where it will remain for a long, long time. It’s a nuisance
for most beekeepers. But be sure to take the time to scrape it off, or you’ll
never get things apart next season. Be sure to save the propolis you scrape
off with your hive tool! It’s precious stuff. I keep an old coffee can in my tool-
box and fill it with the propolis I remove from the hive. And I keep another
can for the beeswax (burr comb) I remove.
Keep a spray bottle of rubbing alcohol in your supply box. Alcohol works
pretty well at removing sticky propolis from your hands. But, for goodness
sakes, keep propolis off your clothes — because it’s nearly impossible to
295Chapter 16: (Almost) Ten Fun Things to Do with Bees
Many beekeepers encourage the bees to make lots of propolis. Special
propolis traps are designed just for this purpose. The traps usually consist
of a perforated screen that is laid across the top bars — similar to a queen
excluder, but the spaces are too narrow for bees to pass through (see Figure
16-6). Instinctively, bees fill all these little holes with propolis. Eventually,
the entire trap becomes thickly coated with the sticky, gummy stuff. Remove
the trap from the hive (gloves help keep you clean) and place it in the freezer
overnight so that the propolis becomes hard and brittle. Like chilled Turkish
Taffy, a good whack shatters the cold propolis, crumbling it free from the
trap. It then can be used to make a variety of nifty products. I’ve included
some recipes to get you started.
goes. In no
Here’s a homemade and all-natural alternative to iodine. Note: Like iodine, it
stains. Use it on minor cuts, rashes, and abrasions. Some folks even use a few
drops in a glass of drinking water to relieve sore throats. The shelf life of this
tincture is several years.
1. Measure the crumbled propolis and add an equal measure of 100-
proof vodka or grain alcohol (for example, one cup propolis and one
cup alcohol). Place in an ovenproof bottle with a lid.
296 Part VI: The Part of Tens
2. Heat the closed bottle in a 200-degree (Fahrenheit) oven. Shake the
bottle every 30 minutes. Continue until the propolis has completely
dissolved in the alcohol.
3. Strain the mixture through a paper coffee filter or a nylon stocking.
4. Bottle the tincture into dropper bottles, which you can get from your
This ointment can be applied to minor cuts, bruises and abrasions.
1. Melt the ingredients in a microwave or in a double boiler.
• 1 teaspoon of beeswax
• 4 teaspoons of liquid paraffin
• 1 teaspoon of finely chopped propolis granules
• 1 teaspoon of honey
2. Remove from heat and stir continuously until it cools and thickens.
3. Pour into suitable jars.
If you happen to have a multi-million-dollar violin made by Stradivarius, you
already know that the finest string instruments ever made had a varnish
made from propolis. But this superior lacquer need not be reserved for such
exclusive uses. Propolis varnish provides a warm, durable finish for any
wood project. Here’s a recipe from a friend of mine who refinishes museum-
1. Combine all ingredients in the following list in a glass jar at room tem-
perature. Cover the jar with a lid. Allow mixture to stand for a week
or more while shaking at regular intervals.
• 4 parts blond shellac
• 1 part manila copal (a soft resin)
• 1 part propolis
297Chapter 16: (Almost) Ten Fun Things to Do with Bees
2. Filter solution through a few layers of cheesecloth or a nylon stocking
Note: The manila copal resin is available from specialty varnish suppliers,
such as Joseph Hammerl GmbH & Co. KG, Hauptstrasse 18, 8523 Baiersdorf,
Making Gifts From Beeswax
Your annual harvest do